Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year End Thoughts

I’m not a Reds supporter and have never really liked the team. But this season I wouldn’t mind them winning the league. There are two reasons for this.

For one, I had mentioned to friends last season that if someone like Rafa is given 10 seasons in charge, he will definitely win the league at least once (was building a case for giving managers lots of time in the job). So I would be very pleased if the one title was over and done with and I can do some told-you-sos (it’s another matter that no one may remember I told them...).

Secondly, it is obvious that Steven Gerrard wants to win the league more than any other player. While Gerrard is a great midfielder with a couple of world beating skills, there are and have been many better midfielders. But no one else carries a team like Gerrard. And every time he wins a game all by himself, I think well it’s just one game. Now it’s been one game many times over and that has regularly included cup finals. But can he win a league all by himself? We’ll know the answer in a few months but if Liverpool have to be Champions, Gerrard will have to come up with magic moments again and again and again. Will this be the season to separate the Gerrard from the Lampard?

It sucks that La Liga games played so late in the night. Have seen so little of the good stuff that it feels like I’ve never known any football other than the English. Barcelona in their current form must be framed and stored for eternity. The pessimist says that one day this form and flow will be gone and even champions will be made of half the stuff that this Barca team is made of. The optimist believes that for years and years to come, Pep and his pipers will play on. Messi for sure will. I asked my then boss to get me a Messi jersey from Barcelona in the beginning of 2006. Everyone else wanted Ronaldinho. But I felt then that he would be the greatest and he is. And whatever anyone says, I’m in no mood to listen and try and justify his greatness.

Not all my friends agree with me on the importance of the manager on team performance in a game. My answer is Mourinho who seems to be playing the game on PlayStation. Every team just like the other doing just enough to win. Having said that, the Champion’s League will be the real show of strength time. If Inter can eliminate Man U then it will boost the self-obsessed one’s ego no end and will be quite a remarkable feat. Rational thinking though, heavily favors the English to win all three of the CL matches against the Italians. It won’t be as easy as the rational English press have made it to be, but it does seem the most obvious outcome. Unless you have actually seen Juventus play – on their day they can hammer anyone. Beware Chelsea!

Today we were taught a lesson in football in a 4 a-side game. The other team treated us like dirt and I felt that I was in a non-league team playing in the premiership. Sobering thought for 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Manchester United v Middlesborough, December 29, Premier League

Dimitar Berbatov scrambled a shot into goal circa minute seventy for an unconvincing one-nil win for Man U keeping them within touching distance of Liverpool. Winning 1-0 and winning ugly are often cited as critical traits of would-be champions, but I say balls to that. Again and again United have come out lucky rather than deserving winners in the premier league in the last few weeks and I don’t care if they end up champions or not, they will need to pull up those socks a great deal more to come close to being the force they were last year.

Of course, the biggest difference is Ronaldo. Given his injury troubles and the missed pre-season, it is unfair to question his goal scoring form which though not as sensational as last season, is still very impressive. It is his overall impact which has diminished. Last year, he was making things happen and when the ball was at his feet, defenders were wetting their expensive chaddis. This year, they tend to be cautious but wait for him to screw it up and so many times he dutifully obliges. Gives the ball away, fumbles in position, makes a bad pass or tries to run through and is bullied off the ball. He will have games where everything will be perfect for him and he will look like the greatest thing in football, but he seems a bit swollen in the head to notice that on days when its not happening for him, he’ll need to be smarter than before to be as effective. As of now, I think Robinho outscores him in the most skilful player in the EPL ranking.

The Berbatov plugin, is the other improper installation in this unit. Last year’s floating front three has been replaced with a more predictable ‘role based organization’ (it’s some organizational jargon that’s being implemented in my company). Which would not have been a problem had Berba been scoring two in three. But he isn’t. He has scored three premier league goals for Man U heading into 2009 and that is a cause for concern. Again he may improve, but then he may not. The thing last year was that it was the team’s responsibility to score. This year it seems more like the strikers’ job and when they are not doing it, the whole team looks sterile.

Which brings me to Rooney. The Dirk Kuyt of Man U? Maybe a little harsh, because Rooney does seem obviously more gifted and dangerous, but he spends way too much time down deep to be a goal threat as often as you would want him to be. Park is another high work rate forward player and in the Englsih league that translates to spending a lot of time chasing balls when you could be waiting to latch on to them.

The other winger is a little bit of an issue. Park is good but no Ronaldo and we had been expecting Nani to be the second Portuguese wonderboy this season but that hasn’t happened. So what could have been a spectacular winger-striker line-up is looking more like Liverpool (Rieira/Ronaldo, Kuyt/Park, Gerrard/Rooney, Berba/Keane) but since that is good enough to be leading the league, it’s not surprising to see Man U close to the top.

Then there is Carrick. Apart from the pass that eventually got deflected to set up Berbatov for the goal, there was very little of value that he provided yesterday. Everytime he had the ball, he passed it to Fletcher and when he joined the attack, it was in positions of least responsibility. He’s no Fabregas and if he weren’t playing for Man U, a few million people across the world would not have known too much off him.

Here’s what I think Man U should do. Play 4-3-3. Settle on 1 right back (any of Rafael, Brown or Neville). Have Fletcher/Carrick as the holding (and not the creative) midfielder. Get Scholes in midfield and pull Rooney in there as well. Then leave Ronaldo, Berbatov and Tevez up front and let them move all around and see them massacre opposition.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Round Up

With most leagues around the world at the half way stage, thought I would just find out the who’s who from some major ones and the I-League. Of course, in some countries the season has ended and Champions have been crowned and some of these are being mentioned as well.

India I-League

The I-League is 10 games old, though four teams have played nine games each with a couple of games having to be postponed owing to the great terror tragedy in Mumbai. Sporting Club de Goa lead the table with 22 points from ten games, four points clear of Fed Cup Champions Mohun Bagan. Churchill and Air India are third and fourth.

Churchill not surprisingly are the most prolific in the goal-scoring department with 17 goals. 11 of these have been scored by the Nigerian Odafe Onyeka Okolie. Wikipedia stats tell me that the 23 year old has as of now scored 99 goals in 88 appearances for Churchill over three seasons! World Player of the Decade for Odafe?

England Premier League

Liverpool, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Manchester United and Arsenal are the top 5 going into Boxing Day in England and it is a 1 point gap at the top after 18 games. (Man U are 7 beind Pool but with 2 games in hand and so Man U supporters in Bangalore have been heard to say…we are just 1 off…haha).

Chelsea have scored 36 goals in their 18 games and have conceded just seven, emerging as the most prolific offensive and most miserly defensive team. In fact their seven goals conceded at this stage is the best across all major leagues in Europe. Anelka has scored 14 and is comfortably on top of the scorers chart.

Hull presents an interesting case with a ranking of six, with 27 goals scored and 31 conceded, thereby being one of the highest ranked teams with a negative goal difference anywhere on the planet.

Germany Bundesliga

A Christmas fairytale for TSG Hoffenheim, sitting on top with 35 points after 17 games. Its all very close though and only 3 points separate the top 5 and it will be interesting to see if Ralf Rangnick’s boys can hold on till the end of the season.

Hoffenheim have not just taken the points, they have done it well as clearly proven by their 42 goals. Bosnian Vedad Ibišević heads the scoring charts with 18 goals and Hoffenheim’s ability to keep hold of him in the winter and keep him fit till the summer may be crucial to their title challenge.

French Ligue 1

It’s all predictable in France with Lyon (38 points) at the top albeit with only a three point lead over Bordeaux. Stade Rennais and PSG are third and fourth.

Marseille are the top goal scorers with 33 in 19 games and you can see that this season Ligue 1 is a little subdued.

Toulouse are seventh and have scored 19 goals as a team but 12 of them have been scored by Frenchman André-Pierre Gignac, which will certainly make him hot property in January as well. FYI, Karim Benzema is on 10 goals and justifying all the hype that surrounds him.

Spain La Liga

If there is one team in Europe that stands head and shoulders above all others, it is Barcelona. 41 points in 16 games, ten points clear at the top, 48 goals scored and 10 conceded. That’s how you dominate! They also have the Liga lead scorer in Samuel Eto (15 goals) and then there is Messi with 10 and Henry with 8 and you have to just go wow! What a Pep!!!

Sevilla, Atletico, Valencia and Real come in next but they are all way behind the leaders. Among the other noticeable scorers in the Liga you have David Villa (12 goals) and Kun Aguero with nine.

Mention must also be made of Sporting de Gijon, who have the worst defensive record in the league having conceded 35 goals but are ranked 11th which is a rarity as in most other leagues, the teams with the worst defence are struggling in the relegation zone.

Italy Serie A

Its Jose’s Inter playing almost like Chelsea did under JM who lead the table by 6 points, with 42 points secured in 17 games. Juventus, Milan and Fiorentina follow but true to reputation, Serie A leading scorers are not so leading when compared across Europe.

Inter have 31 goals for and 11 against while Juve have 30 for and 13 against, thereby illustrating Mourniho’s ability to get his team to do just enough (and nothing more than that), consistently. Chievo meanwhile are ranked last and with only 9 goals scored are the least prolific team across Europe’s big 5 leagues.

Gilardino (Fiorentina), Marco d Vaio (Bologna) and Diego Milito (Genoa) have scored 12 each. Inter’s Ibrahimovic who is having greatness thrust upon him by his manager is at 10 goals and Juve’s Brazilian-Italian Amauri is at 11.

Turkey Super Liga

Sivasspor and Trabzonspor may not be household names, but they are the top 2 clubs at this stage in Turkey. The usual suspects Galatasaray and Fenerbahce come in next and it is all very exciting with 2 points between the top 4. (The leaders have 34 points from 16 games).

Galatsaray have scored 38 which is the best for the league. Interestingly the Super Liga has teams which match the best defensive and worst offensive performance across Europe. Kayserispor have conceded only seven goals (like Chelsea) and are ranked 7th and Hacettepespor have scored only nine goals (like Chievo) and are in a troubled 17th (out of 18) position.

Away from England, Milan Baros is showing his worth leading the scoring with 14 goals for Galatasaray.

Holland Eredivisie

Its AZ, Ajax, Steve McLaren’s Twente and PSV in that order in Holland. AZ have 38 points from 16 games and are 3 clear at the top.

Ajax have 38 goals, 2 more than AZ. What Ajax don’t have is Mounir El Hamdaoui, the Dutch-Moroccan star of AZ who has scored 14 times this season. Also Huntelaar, soon to be of Real Madrid has got only 6 goals for Ajax this season, and on current form he may or may not be the answer to Madrid’s problems for the season.

Portuguese Liga

Its Benfica, Porto, Leixoes Matosinhos and Sporting Lisbon in that order after 12 games in Portugal.

Brazil Serie A

Sao Paulo won their sixth Championship after amassing 75 points from their 38 games in Brazil. Scolari’s old team Gremio came in second, three points behind, followed by Cruzeiro and Palmeiras. Washington (of Fluminense) was joint top-scorer with Keirrison (Coritiba) with 21 goals.

Argentina Primera Division

The Apertura leg of the complicated Primera Division in Argentina (they have another leg called Clausura and I’m not entirely sure of the structure) ended in a three way tie with Boca Juniors emerging champions after a three-way playoff. The stunning news from Argentina is that River Plate finished 20th and last. Jose Sand from 4th placed Lanus scored 15 goals to emerge top scorer from the Torneo where each team plays 19 games. BTW, San Lorenzo and Tigre were the other two teams in the three-way playoff.

Russia Premier League

Rubin Kazan, my favorite sounding team from the entire world won the Russian Premier League with some weeks to spare a few months ago. They finished with 60 points from 30 games, 4 ahead of CSKA Moskva. Dinamo Moskva and Amkar Perm followed. UEFA cup holders Zenit St. Petersburgh finished 5th, though they do have the satisfaction of scoring more goals than any other team (59).

Vagner Love, the Brazilian at CSKA Moskva scored 20 times to lead the tally in Russia.

Monday, December 15, 2008

El Classico at the Nou Camp, December 13, La Liga

So that Saturday morning I woke up at seven and went and played some football. Then, spent the rest of the day running around getting things read at home for an evening with friends and then spent the evening getting drunk and fed. So when the game kicked off at 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning (my time), I needed some object to prevent my eye lids from shutting themselves up.

And so the game I had waited for, for the last few weeks was seen in between nodding off to sleep and waking up from gentle snores. I think I would wake up every two minutes or so, watch the action for thirty seconds or so and then repeat.

What a waste!

Anyway, still managed to figure out that Messi was fouled at every possible opportunity. That Real basically had planned to defend and would have been happy with a draw but would have been very pleased if they could score on the counter. That when Barca pass the ball around, it sweetens up your dreams.

Finally decided to call it a night and head to bed after Casillas first saved Eto’s penalty and then made two saves that he had no business of making. This will end zero-zero I must have muttered to myself as I rolled into bed.

Serves me right! Goals by Sammy Eto and Lionel Messi in the 83rd and 93rd sunk Real and whatever happens to Real from here on, I was the biggest loser of the night!

Middlesborough v/s Arsenal, December 13, Premier League

Earlier last week, Arsenal played Porto and turned in the worst Gunner’s performance in the last few years. They fielded an almost reserve eleven and failed to pass hold or do anything with a football. I thought then, that even though the win may not have been critical for Wenger, the performance they produced must have been confidence shattering for some of the kids.

On Saturday, it was the first team on the pitch, or at least the first team available and fit to play. And while the depths of the Porto encounter were left behind, it was still light years away from the Londoners’ best.

For the first few minutes though, Porto felt like a distant bad dream. Some slick passing, Fabregas consistently splitting the defense and Adebayor being a pain in the ass for defenders. The goal was coming and it duly did, through a corner which Ade finished with ease. Terrible marking though, as the striker didn’t even need to move an inch as he headed the ball into the net. Arsenal continued to keep possession well for a few more minutes but then all of a sudden they lost their mojo.

For Boro, it was their equalizer that started it. They had threatened a little before that, but when Cliclhy gave away the ball on the right flank, Tuncay curled a great cross in which was bettered in quality by Aliadaire’s finish. Three defenders and a goalkeeper between the ball and the net and a diving header that no one could do anything about. Brilliant stuff!

From then on it was Boro, Boro, Boro. They attacked and dominated and easily overpowered Arsenal all over the pitch. For long spells they kept the ball in the Arsenal third and made the Gunners look like some kind of relegation battlers. They should have got something from it too, at least a penalty, but Clichy was lucky to get away with a blatant foul in the box.

The Boro dominance continued till mid-way into the second half, till Arsenal finally got their act together again and the Boro legs tired and then again it was the Gunners who pushed for a goal. But while they kept the ball a lot, they did not threaten much and the game ended at one goal a piece.

For Boro there were some fantastic performances. Tuncay is excellent and I am surprised none of the big clubs have shown too much interest. Spurs or Pool might both find him useful and I won’t be surprised to see that happen. Aliadaire, Arca, Digard, Pogatetz, Downing and Johnson all put in 7+/10 performances and a 2-1 win would not have been too flattering for Boro.

For Arsenal, it throws up some further questions. The bench we know has been weak for some seasons but now the consistency of the first teamers is in serious question. Van Persie can be magnificent one day but off color the next. On Saturday, he seemed to be thinking of someone else. Fabregas started the game well but was invisible when Boro were in control. Gallas, Djourou, Clichy and Diaby all had good moments and many many bad ones. Denilson on the right flank was a massive misfit and another of Wenger’s experiments of developing players who can adapt to many positions, looks completely baffling when it does not come off.

There are two positives though for the Gunners to take away from this one. First, in Adebayor they have someone who has now matured into one of the very best in the world in his area of expertise. Second, if there is going to be one season in ten where you can get away with losing points to experiments, then this could be it. With Pool, Man U and Chelsea all drawing on the weekend, Arsene can still believe that the title may yet end up at the Emirates.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chelsea v/s Cluj, December 11, Champion’s League

Chelsea needed to win this to ensure qualification and given their recent home form, it would not have been surprising if they had spent the last few days wishing this was an away tie. In the end the Blues finally won again at home, but it wasn’t easy and Chelsea are still far far from their best at home.

First Half

Nothing much happened for the first twenty minutes or so, with Chelsea lacking any real rhythm and Cluj making sporadic forward runs with little effect. Then Chelsea (minus Frank Lampard) settled down and started keeping possession of the ball. Mikel was instrumental in controlling play and they passed it around rather well, always falling flat when the ball reached the opposition box.

Defensively they were not tested too much. Bosingwa, a good player prone to a lapse per game, lost the ball dangerously once and then a moment of communication breakdown between Ashley Cole and Bosingwa (I think) led to a dangerous cross from wide right from the Argentine Culio which led to a bad decision from Cech which needed a goal-line clearance from Mikel before Chelsea could breathe again. Pereira was allowed to shoot speculatively a couple of times and I say allowed because the Chelsea back line tended to stay deep without looking to close down the Cluj attackers.

Cluj were efficient and always in position, allowing Chelsea to pass but not penetrate. They had a defensive approach but were not averse to attacking and they build their attacks down the flanks by playing in neat triangles involving three players.

Kalou, got the Chelsea opener but he should thank John Terry for it. Three Cluj defenders jumped on Terry while trying to defend a lobbed free kick from the right and in doing so let the ball drop to an unmarked Kalou. In true Kalou style, he swung at it and missed but the ball dropped favorably and he had enough time and little difficulty in sending the second effort to the back of the net.

And that really was all there was to talk about in the first half. None of the Chelsea players could have been given high ratings and it was typical of their last umpteen home performances – good play with little impact. Lampard was missed, especially when half chances to shoot were not being taken, but most importantly, they seemed to have surplus resources in midfield. The situation was crying out for a 4-4-2.

Second Half

Chelsea came out and played some beautiful football. They would have got something from it too, but for Claro in the Cluj goal who stopped a bullet from Anelka. And then against the tide, in the blink of an eye Cluj equalized. It was a brilliant goal. Quick passing and movement to leave the left back reeling and a brilliant cross finished equally brilliantly leaving Cech with no chance. Maybe Alex could be blamed for not dealing with the cross, but then it was placed perfectly and there’s only so much that even a well-paid defender can do.

Stunned, Chelsea laid the siege again and again they lost to Claro, who saved brilliantly when Joe Cole seemed certain to finish. Scolari waited 65 minutes before going 4-4-2. My pick for player to be substituted would have been Ballack, who was the least impressive on the night, but out went Kalou and in came Didier Drogba.

Immediately Chelsea looked more threatening and they started using route one to get the ball into the opposition ox, but we know all that… that is exactly what Drogba does. But it was his finish which drilled home the point that he is a superstar in this team of superstars. So many times in the evening we had seen players take that fraction of a second longer to get into position and the moment to score had passed. I’m dropping names like Deco, Ballack, Joe Cole, Anelka etc. who all could have scored had they the speed of lightning. But they didn’t and that takes nothing away from them.

But then Mikel found Joe Cole in some space who lobbed it to Drogba who was charging towards goal. Before you knew it the ball was in the back of the net. In no time at all, the guy trapped the ball had it neatly on his feet and drilled a power shot before anyone could say whoa!

Final Whistle

Cluj bow out with heads held high and players on display. Claro, Panin, Trica, Dani, Culio, Pereira and the goal scorer Yssouf Kone all succeeded in creating an impression. For Chelsea it was job done and relief but life will not get any easier for Scolari.

Anelka is a class act but even he is no Drogba. And with Lampard back in contention and after some time Essien as well, he will have a tough time keeping everyone happy.

Personally I would like to see them play with two strikers (4-4-2). Essien, Deco, Ballack and Lampard present themselves as the obvious midfield but this would mean sacrificing width. Then again Joe Cole is too good to be sitting on the bench for long and ditto Mikel (what a performance he gave last night). It’s not easy being Scolari. The paycheck would be helpful of course!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Arsenal v Wigan, December 6, Premier League

Last year for the same fixture, I happened to be at the Emirates. I sat with my friends Joshi (Arsenal supporter) and Madhur in the Wigan stand as no other tickets to be found. Joshi in fact, was walking right into the stand with an Arsenal jersey on his back, but was thankfully warned by a steward. Not surprisingly most of the away stand happened to be filled by people like us and there were only a handful of passionate Wigan fans.

Looking across the stadium, it was evident that the percentage of die-hard Gooners in the crowd was no better. Barring one stand, which was on some other side of the massive stadium, the rest was strangely subdued. I don’t happen to be any kind of expert in stadia atmosphere, but it was evident that for a 60,000 odd-seater packed to capacity, there was very little lung power going around. Most spectators (with self guilty as accusing) were more interested in taking pictures and feeling good, rather than being ‘one’ with the game.

For the record, that one ended two-nil with two late Arsenal goals sinking a resilient Wigan.
In terms of the game itself, it was a little similar and somewhat different to the affair from the last season. This time it ended 1-0 for the hosts with Adebayor scoring a first half winner and Wigan again putting up a plucky show.

In terms of the crowd, it’s gotten much worse over the last twelve months. Much, much worse. Other stuff happened in the game as well, but Eboue being booed off the ground by his own fans has to be one of the worst cases of home-support I have witnessed – in person or on a television.
Nasri’s injury saw Eboue being brought on as left winger. The man was himself making a comeback from a long spell out injured, and then was put on to play in a position that he is not used to. For sure Wenger knew what he was doing, but then it wasn’t exactly a shocker to see Eboue have a shocker! As the game ended his performance turned from shocking to pathetic to hilarious and by then it was obvious that he had no confidence remaining. Taking him off seemed to be a wise thing to do and that’s what Wenger did.

None of it warranted the booing. This wasn’t a pathetic team performance that demanded a show of dissatisfaction. This wasn’t a guy who had publicly let the club down. At the best of times, Eboue has not been much loved by Arsenal fans but approaching this game, there had been nothing from him that should have made him a target for the fans. If anything, with the team leading and a player clearly out of confidence, a small cheer would have helped him a great deal.

I try and visualize the stadium and I can’t put a finger on the stand which could have produced such a distinct sound in a stadium where anything more than a din seemed difficult to raise. Were the tourists, there for the first (and maybe only) time taking a break from watching others in amusement and taking pictures to realize that Eboue was being substituted and he had been shite? Were the prawn-sandwhich brigade involved enough to know or care?

I keep getting the feeling that it could have been neither. It is quite likely the new-age Arsenal fan, a regular follower of the team who knows his football but who does not know how to be a supporter. One who is fed by today’s media and sees his (and indeed her) football in black and white like newsprint. The old English football fans are a commendable species and Emirates has clearly put up the endangered sign for them.

Other things: Fabregas had a beauty, Arsenal are still scoring one out five that they should have and Emile Heskey is the best target man but the worst goal-scorer.

Homeless World Champions Head Home to Afghanistan

Lately I have often wondered about how the sports industry can give people a reason to play. Well: here’s an example. The Homeless World Cup that just concluded its sixth edition in Melbourne gives people a better life through playing and is an outstanding effort in the field of changing lives.

World Cup 2008

Fifty-six countries (including India) participated in Melbourne and the team from war-torn Afghanistan emerged as the Men’s Champions thereby emerging as the first non-European champions. The Women’s Championship, instituted for the first time was won by Zambia.
More than 500 players and coaches attended the event and as they return to their native lands (but not their homes), many will hopefully see better lives and better opportunities for having been world cup participants.

Who are the World cuppers?

This is quoted from the tournament’s website and lists the eligibility criteria for participants of this year’s event:
  • Are male or female and at least 16 years old (must have turned 16 before 01.12.2008) and
  • Are or have been homeless at some point after 1.12.2007, in accordance with the national definition of homelessness or
  • Make their main living income as street paper vendor or
  • Are asylum seekers currently without positive asylum status or who were previously asylum seekers but obtained residency status after 1st December 2007 or
  • Are currently in drug or alcohol rehabilitation and have been homeless at some point in the past two years (post 01.12.2006)
  • Have not taken part in previous Homeless World Cup tournaments.

The Story Behind the World Cup

The story of the Homeless World Cup is the story of Mel Young and Harald Schmied. The following excerpt is taken from Mel Young’s profile on (

Mel Young, 53, is recognised as one of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

In 1993 he co-founded The Big Issue in Scotland, with Tricia Hughes. The weekly magazine is sold by homeless people in the streets of Scotland and now has a circulation of 40,000. With the success of The Big Issue in Scotland, he helped set up the International Network of Street Papers, a global network of over sixty street papers sold in every continent, of which he is Honorary President. The combined annual circulation of these papers is over 30 million helping 100,000 homeless or long-term unemployed people throughout the world every year.

It was in Cape Town, at the end of the 2001 INSP conference, that Mel and Austrian born Harald Schmied attempted to invent an international language to enable homeless people to communicate with each other around the world. When they realised one already existed – football – the Homeless World Cup was born. The first tournament was held in Austria in 2003 with 18 teams attending from around the world. This was followed by Sweden 2004, Edinburgh 2005, Cape Town 2006 and was staged in Copenhagen in July 2007 with 48 teams taking part.

The Impact

According to stats collected by the people behind the show, 77% of all participants see a positive change in their lives. According to a write-up on

Post event research, done six months after the Edinburgh tournament, showed that, of 217 homeless competitors, 38% were in regular employment, 40% had improved their housing situation, and only 18% were still selling street papers. And a whopping 94% declared that they had 'a new motivation for life.'

Moreover, the Homeless World Cup has led to grassroots football programmes in over sixty countries with over 30,000 homeless people involved.

The Indian Chapter

Prof. Vijay Barse from Nagpur has driven slum football in India and got his inspiration watching some slum dwellers kick a bucket as a football one rainy afternoon. As founder of the Krida Vikas Manch he began by organizing slum football tournaments for Nagpur dwellers. The scale of his efforts grew significantly over the years and now Vijay is responsible for the Indian team’s presence in the World Cup. For the record, India is ranked 45th out of 48 countries in the Homeless Football World Rankings.

Closing Thoughts

The success and growth of the Homeless World Cup is a salute to the individuals who go beyond the thought of seeing a change and take it upon themselves to make the change. Individuals like Prof. Vijay Barse and Mel Young succeed because they do not give up on an idea in a weak moment and carry it through to its conclusion.

But to give kudos only to them will be to leave the real ‘stars’ out. Some of the real stars are:
  • Sayeed Reza, who has been begging on the streets of Kabul for five years and scored 3 of his team’s 5 goals in the final
  • Patrick Mbeu - former national team player for Rwanda, Mbeu lived in a shelter for political refugees in France before playing in the 2007 Homeless World Cup in Copenhagen, Denmark. This year, Mbeu is coaching the French team and earning his training certificate with the soccer club Paris Saint-Germain.
  • 20-year-old Dehkontee Sayon from Liberia. Sayon is unemployed and technically homeless -- she lives with a friend in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia -- having previously studied accounting at the United Methodist University. "I stopped because of a lack of financial support," she told IPS.
  • David Duke: Personal problems led to alcoholism which led to homelessness. Now this Scot is getting his life back on track after playing the homeless world cup and finding a reason for pride.
Also Check

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Reason to Play

I was in Jamshedpur on vacation last week and driving around town with the family in tow, we saw an archery event taking place in the JRD Tata Sports Complex. Intrigued and excited, Arti (my wife) and I returned to the scene of action a few hours later and it was a thrilling sight.

More than a hundred kids with bows ranging from the wooden to the coolest taking aim at targets placed 30-120 meters (or was it yards ??) away. This was the national junior archery championship and teams from all across the country were there to do battle. We had encountered the archers before the actual competition had started and what we saw were some practice rounds.

What a sight!

And then I wondered how many of them would still be shooting arrows in five-ten years time! Arti herself had played basketball for her state and then it never occurred to her to continue to do so after school was done. How many of these kids I saw would be in the pool of players still aiming for the Olympics when they reach the age?
The answer sadly is not many. Like Arti, for many travelling for camps and national level meets as a school kid will become memories in adulthood with not enough real relevance. One cannot blame them as a living will have to be made and the bread earned and the mortgage paid. The answer has to be in the direct linkage of livelihood with sports.

Take the example of Biwani and the boxers that are made. If you box well you can get a job with the army. This has created a large pool of boxers and the facilities to train them. And form this large pool have emerged one Olympic medalist and two who got close.

If similar solutions can be traced for more and more disciplines and similar pool of sportspersons can get created for each of them, I’m sure in a country as large as ours we will still be producing champions in spite of a lack of infrastructure and the best coaching. The trick is to make sure that they do not stop playing.
And the answer for football will also lie there. Yes, footballers probably have more of a future economically than archers even today, but then it is a sport that the whole world plays and hence the critical mass requirements for football are that much larger.

So here’s in search of a solution that gives youngsters an economic reason to play football. If anyone reads this and has an idea, let’s discuss and implement it. If it’s not for football but for any other sport (say shooting or swimming or wrestling or anything else) let’s hear about it and do something about it. There are many things that Indian sports is need of, but the biggest of them all is – a reason to play.