Thursday, November 27, 2008

if you know someone in mumbai

Who needs any kind of help in terms of food, place to stay, communication, anything - let me know.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

what a beautiful day

A historic moment in world politics has arrived, and it has done so in my lifetime. Congratulations to the United States for making it possible.

And congratulations to Roma, who have kept their Olimpico '09 dream alive.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

meeting diego della valle

This Thursday Eva, my colleague at work, mentioned going to get an interview and photoshoot for the magazine with the owner of Tod's. After we put the glass back in the windowpanes whence they'd fallen upon hearing my unearthly screech, she decided to take me along, which is how I ended up in the Tata Suite of the Taj Mahal Hotel this Friday evening meeting with Diego della Valle. For those reading this a hundred years from now without the benefit of an encyclopaedia, the Taj Mahal Hotel is an architectural and cultural landmark of Bombay built over a century ago next to the Gateway of India; Jamsetji Tata was the founder of the Tata company and is widely considered the father of modern Indian industry; Tod's is a luxury brand whose signature driving shoes, or gommini, have been the cornerstone of its international designer leather label; Diego della Valle is the Italian businessman who owns Tod's and also the Italian football club Fiorentina, which he bought in 2002 along with his younger brother Andrea della Valle.

For my part I am glad to report that he seemed happy to observe an unlikely candidate for Fiorentina fandom interrupting his sojourn in Bombay. He is a man of charm and polish, as you might expect, and his English is excellent. He is candid about buying a football team to speak to young people, especially young men. "What did you see in that club you bought in 2002?" I asked; at the time, of course, Fiorentina was a club with everything to recommend it except actual functionality. He said to me, "Well, what do you see in them now?" I said I thought they played very good football. He talked then of how a football club reached out to young men, an explanation that combined the finer points of branding with a kindly and conservative didacticism. It is valid for the della Valles to talk about negotiating values and - well, even morals, really, with a crowd whose peaceful and romantic enthusiasm has been encouraged in part by the brothers' ultimatums that they will take their cash and leave at the first hint of bad behaviour. There is a demonstrable point here about the interaction of several institutions - the controlling interest of a business, the emotional and moral investment of a family, the power of a crowd, and, although it rarely comes up in conversations specific to Fiorentina now, the function of the state apparatus in the form of laws and law enforcement - in creating a good environment for the club. There is an immediate short-term benefit to corporate involvement in football, well-documented in the Premier League as well as in Italy - I'm thinking of accounts of the crackdown on racism and anti-Semitism in the San Siro in the late eighties after Berlusconi took over Milan - and talking to DDV has brought the point home again*.

I enthused further about the culture of the stadium, and how I gathered it was setting standards nationally. He said yes, UEFA were fans, as was Michel Platini. At this point I exhibited extreme callowness by laughing and saying I thought this was funny because Platini used to be a Juventus player. He also laughed and said it was cool [not his exact words] because the two clubs were friends now. I said OKAYYYY THEN, but softly, in my brain.

My favourite moment in the whole thing came at this point, when Eva interjected and asked him if he had any one dream buy for the team [we had just been talking about fancy shoes, the theme carried over]. He said 'no, I think we have what we need,' in a manner that left the imagination to supply the flourish of the cigar and the saucy smoke ring at the end of the sentence. That was cool.

Asking for an autograph would have been the wrong thing to do, since I was tagging along to a professional meeting, but I hope I shan't regret not taking one. Somewhere in the known universe a digital photograph of us exists; until it wings its way into my inbox, however, I can offer no tangible proof of our meeting. Eva's interview with him, very much a focus on his life's work with Tod's and a freewheeling conversation on style, luxury and economics, should probably be out in December - I'll post a link when it's done.

I wore my Viola jersey with a black pencil skirt and yellow ballet pumps. I am learning that one of the upsides of representing a fashion magazine is that you are forced to think about academic questions of costume and style at a level deeper than 'Can I go another week without washing these jeans?'

* Is there an applicable/sustainable 'Fiorentina model' here? I don't think so - the club, the city and the della Valles are in a fairly unique position. But I think it is a great example of how several cogs in the wheel have been pulled into working well together, and at least in the short term, the club has avoided the most visible problems that accompany a vibrant fan culture and sensible economics. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the success of the football team itself. Long may that continue.

More soon.

Friday, October 24, 2008

inzaghis to the left

Photobucket

Picture* courtesy the latest installment of my usually merch-pushing Milan newsletter, which today, instead of peddling 'Rossoneri Underwear' or 'Sleep with the devils' [bed linen, not the negotiable affection of Alessandro Nesta] announced a 'Goal By Goal' programme, whose substance is that Nutrilite will donate 10K dollars to the Milan Foundation every time Ronaldinho scores a goal. No pressure there from sick needy kids, Ronnie. And why yes, that IS once-crocked, now 100% scoring record-wallah Pippo Inzaghi, who scored (again) (this season) (that's two goals in two games) (OMG YAY!) last night against Heerenveen, who, surprisingly, turned out not to shock Milan.

No particular angst over the Beckham-to-Milan plans. This is the team of Ibrahim Ba, Digao and, what's his name, Silvio Berlusconi. More importantly, this is still the team that racks up bizarre losses every other weekend to small teams that fight hard. My mellow is not being harshed by the free transfer of a hard-working winger (neither of which attributes Milan is known for) who's not going to get much attention in Italy. Cease to persuade me, my loving Proteus - unless it is with points.

Okay. I may have some Fiorentina-related news. It involves yellow ballet pumps. Please stay tuned.

* - eta: Blogger cut my macro off. There is a very real small child at the end of it, please click and observe for yourselves.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

serious question.

What are Roma's chances of playing a Champions' League final in their own stadium at the end of this season?

[My hopeful take: slim.]

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

i like to walk alone

Oops. Clearly my blog/life balance has gone out of whack, much like Andrea Pirlo's thigh muscle. I'm really happy about gainful employment, but it has taken the focus off custodiating the custodiators at The Guardian, among other things. I'll be back. In the meanwhile, have one of my favourite photos.



The collars, as you might have guessed, are what affect me most deeply.

I've been keeping reading records @ my microblog, but not much else lately. I hope everyone reading this is well, and that footie blogging will see a sharp spike the world over very shortly.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

i say it for lionel messi

I say it for Andrea Pirlo. I say it for the Olympics. I say it for the Euros. I say it for the World Cup and the Copa America.

I say it for the fans. I say it for the stadiums. I say it for Tottenham Hotspur. I say it for Daniele de Rossi. I say it for America. I say it for the Asian market. I say it for first teams. I say it for trainers. I say it for superhero pictures. I say it for cricket.

Ban the pre-season friendly.

Ban it now.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

there's too much panic in this town

+ Life, like football, has the tendency to amaze sometimes. I am no longer sick. I am apparently no longer unemployed. And I seem to have started to care about Ronaldinho. I mean, huh. Thanks here to Ursus, who offered to mail me 'dinho merchandise straight from the mothership, but I find I am in the happy position of being able to refuse for perfectly practical reasons. I do not buy original football merchandise from any of the European Club Association boys, and the 'dinho fakes are going to be flooding our streets like the late July rains in a matter of months, it is to be hoped. I will have my synthetic winter-wear Milan #80, should I so choose, with little to no trouble to me or to the very kind Ursus. Life in Bombay would be difficult indeed for one who wanted a Digao jersey, but luckily, I am not that one.

+ My greatest contact with football remains the Football Italia page, since I am incapable of swearing off all trashy football gossip. It's nice to see Jose Mourinho settling in, even if his storied recalcitrance seems to be rubbing off on the neighbours in strange, unexpected ways. I'm a little cheesed off at the lack of Beppe Baresi in the Inter training pictures, but I hope there will be some soon. The Baresi Brothers webcomic that Martha and I plan to produce might have to be post-art and blank panels if this continues.

+ Thank goodness I can't watch the cricket. ;__;

+ I have been studying old photos of Juventus lately, thanks to my friend Neko. They were a frighteningly attractive-looking bunch. I'm not sure if Antonio Cabrini does or does not remind me of Ashton Kutcher. I know the leavening in that loaf is that Cabrini was largely excellent at his job, while Kutcher is not [please don't argue, you speak to a woman who has seen Just Married twice]. Perhaps this time when I say I'll make that post on vintage kit, I will.

+ And sometime guest-blogger and cycling expert Sofie is now available full-time on her spanking new blog de foot, viz. football and the city.

+ No, seriously. I have a job and everything now. I know, I can't believe it either.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

shaking off the chains

It is almost a month since my last appearance in this part of the Internet - disease and unemployment have kept my nose at other grindstones, alas, and I have been amusing myself with reading things other than the sports pages ever since Euro 2008 ended; I refuse to concern myself with transfers. I was struck down by a hideous monsoon virus just when Marcello Lippi took over Italy, which meant I had no chance to collect my thoughts and feelings of vague resentment about this development. I was unable to express my love for Iker Casillas on the night of Spain's victory in the Euros. I had no way to persuade you of how little the fate of Ronaldinho matters to me. I could still express my rage at the debate over 'modern slavery' raging about the frosted hair of Cristiano Ronaldo, but let's consider it said, since James Lawton has already taken the opportunity to be self-righteous about it somewhere in the pages of The Independent. But I hope to return presently, with musings on vintage Juventus kits, and the thrills of the UEFA Cup.

How about that Ajantha Mendis, anyway?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

nothing you can sing that can't be sung

There was a throwaway line in the flurry of articles about Milan in March-April 2007 after their qualification for the Champions' League finals, about Rino Gattuso, interviewed about the Istanbul final in 2005, saying that for a long time it was unbearable for him to think of anything associated with that night. Istanbul just some Turkish city, penalties what penalties, that sort of thing. Liverpool just the home city of the Beatles.

The reason I think of this on the brink of a crunch game against fake rivals France that is not likely to throw up great football or shining examples of sporting spirit is that I take comfort in the fantasy that Rino, or perhaps his good friend Marco Materazzi, will line-up opposite the French with their heads held high, and on cue after the opening bars of La Marseillaise, will boom "LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!" at their opponents.

It might insult the national sentiments of the French, but then it might also get Nicolas Anelka to smile.

I am interested in human behaviour during the blaring of the anthems. One of pop culture's frequent tests of the measure stupidity among the public is to stop people on the street and demand them to repeat the words of the national anthem [at least, this happens frequently on youth channels on Indian TV]. I suppose the footballing population contains the same pecentage of people who cannot tell you the words of their anthem as the wider populace. Choosing to keep mum and let the others get on with it rather than expose your powers of intellectual retention as weak is a courteous way of doing things.

Surely there are those who choose this method to register a social protest, and I generally applaud the gesture. It would be silly to take a chance to represent your country and not give your very best while playing, but if you wanted to express disgust with your government's policies, or at the way they treat your community, or simply because you don't like patriotic fervour, this seems like a highly visible yet perfectly honourable way to do it. The trouble is, I'm not sure if anyone among the throng of mute footballers at Euro 2008 is doing this. I'm a little disappointed.

On the flip side, of course there is something appealing about a grand gesture of solidarity. Before their opening game against Austria, every starter on the Croatian team raised hand to heart before they started to sing. Perhaps in a different political situation, or against different opponents, it may have seemed less benign. What may seem like swaggering arrogance in one country - or one sport, or one tournament - is a simple mark of committment in another. If the Indian football team ever qualified for a World Cup, I wouldn't be displeased to hear a familiar ditty before the start of a match. Of course, it would mean nothing if they didn't bother to play their best after the singing, which is what will ultimately matter to those who like such a thing as 'national pride' to be quantifiable and result-based. We'd never heckle them at the airport for anything less.

++

I've been boring everyone I meet with news of my morbid fascination with Marco van Basten. The graven image in those videos and YouTube pages has suddenly drawn breath -- in rather a scary, Darth Vaderish fashion, appropriate to the buzzcut and the blank, focused stare -- and become a very alarming but intriguing human character. For someone who went into the tournament with roughly the same number of question marks over his head as Roberto Donadoni, he's certainly pulled ahead. [Donadoni has helped with that, no lie.] I think I could live with his winning streak continuing, just to see those goal celebrations.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

guest blog: we all need someone we can bleed on

M. Satchi is an artist and football fan from Toronto, Canada.

A petition in .PNG to Roberto Donadoni:

Monday, June 9, 2008

now that it's here

* pulls on ITALIANS DO IT ON THE COUNTER tee-shirt over habit, sits down, waits to be disappointed by Toto di Natale *

Half time. Poor Toto. It is not his fault. Nothing is his fault. He runs and runs and runs. As Yves Saint-Laurent once said of Tom Ford, "he does what he can."

I am having visions of Marco van Basten hoisting the championship trophy. He will be forced to crack a smile once again. How will he deal?

Oh, and: Dirk Kuyt. Really?

Full-time: * pulls tee-shirt off, crosses ITALIANS off, writes in DUTCH in orange felt-tip *

Friday, June 6, 2008

singing the blues

I have probably already made it embarrassingly clear that I am a gigantic n00b to football fandom. I like football history, but I have very little first-hand experience of it. In fact, for me football started in 1998, and not entirely with Paolo Maldini and his Oedipus complex, either, which is my habitual reluctant confession about my beginnings. [Don't make me say more about it - know that the words 'Ricky Martin' are involved and leave me to suffer in silence, I beg you.]

But I love Italy, in spite of their continued associations with bad pop. Yes, Il Divo, I mean you. Back in '98, when I noticed them, I remembered them as a team shadowed by tragedy. In later years I have traced this melancholic instinct back to this photograph, which is my only other memory of USA '94 not related to Romario, or drug busts. Subsequent events in France did nothing to erase this impression. I have only a vague memory of Baggio in France, slipping in and out of the side like a shadow himself.

I have often asked myself if it is dishonest for a team like Italy, with no dearth of middling-to-exquisite talent up front, to rely on their defensive training to do so much of their work for them. In relative terms - do they merely do what any team would have done if they had the talents of Maldini, Nesta, Cannavaro and Zambrotta, as the latest and least of a long tradition, at their disposal? In absolute terms - should such a team not have made more varied demands on their surfeit of good qualities? We'll never know; but if it is ethically suspect to coast and coattail it, then they've paid for it repeatedly, in the most ridiculous, bitter ways possible. Penalties. Bad referee decisions. Petulance. Statistics. Over and over and over again. Never, since '98, have I seriously backed an Italy team to win a tournament. As far along as the quarter-finals in 2006 I was fully prepared to acknowledge the heartbreaking Argentina as just and proper world champions. [Of course, they have a long history in the bitterness and hilarity department themselves. I am putting the finishing touches on a very serious academic study of the correlation of the high incidence of alcoholism in Kerala and the tendency of its people to back Argentina in international tournaments as I speak.]

Italy are anything but heartbreaking. In fact, they're almost chronically impossible to feel sorry for. The players are always experienced superstars, the drama always fulsome and generally unpleasant, and the attitude, on the whole, smug and entitled. Could you ever cry for such a team?

Sometimes I look back at the miracle of pain and Roberto Baggio that was 1994, aka the World Cup I missed, and wonder if it's just the way history works, that he seems to have been the last Italian truly capable of breaking hearts, with his fragility and unworldly genius. I'm willing to put it down to the sentimentality of the new for the old - after all, Homer in the Odyssey makes that quip about no sons ever overreaching their fathers; some are just as bad, 'but most are worse' - but I think that, in the wake of such unexpected good luck and massive disappointment, it would have taken an enduring pair of tear ducts to find anything left to cry for. Perhaps future generations of French supporters will feel the same about their space cowboy team of 2006. [I hope they keep their close-to-hand victories in '98 and '00 in mind, to comfort them.] I don't know if that team were more or less likeable than their successors in Germany. But I don't think the memory of Fabio Grosso gambolling in the fields of Berlin will ever erase the image of that final missed penalty.

But perhaps it's just the way tragedy and its self-aggrandising elements work. The rhythms of club football tend to make everyone, even the pathologically ambitious, make do; but in the rarefied atmosphere of the big international tournament these Aristotelian notions of tragedy and comedy seem to make sense.

the general tendency of saviours to be victims.



++

General opinion has it that that final in Pasadena stands unrivalled for tedium and frustration in World Cup history. Maybe so, maybe so. I found this amusing New York Times piece, dated just before the final, that deconstructs the magic of that Italy and that Brazil in its profiling of the heroes of either side.

I'm also pleased to see this great Rob Bagchi blog in the Guardian about the art and history of Italian defending. It is framed by his reminiscences of the brothers Baresi, and their likeness to - that's right, folks! - a comic.

[Thanks to the wonderful Neko for the picture.]

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

do you have a euro 2008 team?

Why? Isn't it just another excuse for Europeans to hate each other?

Oh, alright, kidding. I love international tournaments. For a long time I had no idea that teams existed outside internationals. Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Lazio -- these were just words that echoed off Star Sports' Football Mundial advertisements. My father and grandfather would dutifully exchange cricket for football once every four summers or so, and a lot of my ideas about football - Maradona unquestionably world's greatest, Romario not more talented than Baggio [in fact Baggio simply unlucky poor bugger], Malayalis always support Argentina and Bengalis always go for Brazil, etc - were formed in this crucible.

I suppose I was a neutral, in those days. I should still be. I think I may safely tell you that I am, to an extent. I mean, here is a tourney and a sport in which I have no rational national biases whatsoever. It would be stupid to support anything but exciting football, even if it's a Raymond Domenech team that plays it. This is obviously not the entire truth, however. The truth is that I would like it if Italy won it. In fact, I even have second-favourites: Croatia.

Having confessed as much, what I now put to you is: what about you, reader? Are you supporting a team? A player? An ideology? A kit [thank you, Puma, thank you for bringing back the blue and white]? Why?

and the one in designerwear isn't even the one from milan!

I keep hearing about something on your so-British television channels called I'm On Setanta Sport that makes use of a Portuguese puppet to poke fun at football and footballers. That's all very well. Who's going to make the seminal Baresi Brothers webcomic to keep up with the amusements of football in Milan week in and week out?

holding out like a hero

Of my near-endless litany of complaints with the IPL, one has been the purely personal displeasure at seeing cricketers indulge in the sort of drama usually reserved for the football field. Seeing my favourite RP Singh take a wicket and then raise his finger to his lips to shush the crowd really did stick in my craw. You could argue that the stiff-upper-lip traditions of cricket have been eroding for a long time and were never all that impeccable in the first place; you could argue that the days of upper-class Englishmen setting the norms for sportsmanlike behavior are dead and rightly so; you could argue that it was context-dependent; you could argue that it's unfair to expect young men not to give in to expectations at a tense moment, when said expectations clearly demand visible drama the way the IPL has from start to finish.

I don't buy it. There is an argument that the idea of the stoic sportsman is classist and culturally irrelevant, sure; but it's not like chest-thumping, shirt-waving histrionics are really blazing new trails in masculine behaviour. I'm part of the "new India," and I don't think the depressingly badly-behaved Sreesanth or the clearly troubled Harbhajan, with their aggro melodrama, represent me and my place in the world any better than the old order of cricketer ever did [Although the quiet, dignified Tendulkars and Kumbles of the world are rather better representation than I deserve, perhaps.]

All this grumping is to say: I loved Mahendra Singh Dhoni at the end of the IPL final this Sunday night, which his team lost by a hair's breadth to the Rajasthan Royals. The man was brilliant. It becomes more and more difficult to describe him without being reductive: somehow he can typify all the commonly-held beliefs about him - that he's the small-town kid who's made it big, the tough guy with a big heart, the stoic hero, the inspirational captain, and so on - without conforming to any one of them. Given the general emotional tenor of the IPL it's not difficult to imagine someone in his position acting less than graciously. [Two words: Saurav Ganguly.] From Dhoni there was no petulance, no recrimination, not even a show of anger or disappointment. While the Royals were exploding with joy in the middle, Dhoni stood by for a while, then gathered his team around him and went into a huddle, to emerge from it with exactly the same expression he'd worn for most of the game, one of calm self-confidence. It was the face of a man who isn't satisfied with his lot, but refuses to be ashamed anyway. He was neither maganimous nor offhand about his loss, but he treated it with the superb level-headedness of a man who really believes that cricket is a game. You can't do your sport more credit than to really acknowledge and respect that, can you?

I don't know if chance or destiny will allow Dhoni to become India's Mike Brearley, but I feel more and more secure about the future of the expensively-assembled Team India rollercoaster, knowing it's in this man's safe hands.

[Full disclosure: I know Dhoni. Which is to say, I've spent three nights in the same hotel as he did. My friend & I spent a significant amount of our waking hours sneaking around keeping a watch out for his then cack-coloured hair and perpetual you-cannot-be-serious look. (He'd just come back from the disastrous World Cup campaign in the Caribbean.) Future generations of angry nuns will hear affecting tales of the unique and touching moment in the lives of the angry abbess and the legendary wicket-keeper and India captain.]

[YES, I watched the final. And the semi-finals. I did it for Shane Warne, okay? I did it for Shane Warne.]

Thursday, May 22, 2008

in the wilderness with lovely hair

Rose is a student of art history and a football enthusiast based in London. While persuading her to explain why Da Vinci saw fit to paint his frescoes on dry plaster, we got to talking about one of our favourite players, Filippo Inzaghi, who was left out of the Italy Euro '08 squad earlier this week by Roberto Donadoni.




There is a film of Milan’s triumphant bus ride through their city after the Champions League victory last year. In it, if you look, you can see Marco Borriello, busily taking pictures of himself with the other players. He must have known by then that he was being sent out on loan after a season in which he was suspended for failing a drugs test for the most idiotic of reasons, having never really been a serious player at Milan.

A year later, things are very different. After a successful year at Genoa - well, until a couple of months ago - Borriello is going to Austria as part of the Italian squad. Pippo Inzaghi, scorer of the two goals that won Milan the Champions League final, is not. Despite a run of form at the end of the season in which he scored 11 goals in twenty one games, Donadoni felt that he could do without Inzaghi on this occasion. “It’s not his age,” he said, vaguely “it’s for technical reasons.”

I’ve watched a lot of Inzaghi’s interviews, struggling with my not even basic Italian and his extremely fast delivery, I’ve read a lot about him as well, and I may be wrong, but his statement when he found out that he wasn’t included, apparently the same way as every one else, is one of the few times that I’ve ever seen him express a negative feeling in the press. The Channel 4 website said that Inzaghi was bitter about his omission: a quick way of dismissing him, because fans aren’t interested in players who aren’t in the squad, but in players who are. It’s going to be del Piero, di Natale and Borriello celebrating in Vienna on the 29th of June, after all.

Inzaghi knows as much about the vagaries of football as anyone else, it’s not the first time he’s been left out of the Italy team for a major tournament. He wasn’t picked in 2004, and at that time he was suffering from injuries that looked likely to mean that he would retire at 31. In the event he did return to playing, and has had the most successful three years of his career. There have been disappointments for him in club football. In the 1999 semi final of the Champions League, he scored two goals for Juventus, only to see Manchester United score three. Inzaghi was inconsolable, on his knees, weeping with his face in the ground like a child.

But there have been triumphs as well, of course. Although he played only briefly in the 2006 World Cup, he did score a goal, out-thinking Peter Cech, which is an achievement in itself. Most of the successes have come with Milan; not only in terms of medals but by scoring the goals that make the boys in the curva love him. John Dahl Tomasson may have got the last touch on the ball for the goal against Ajax in the Champions League in 2003, but everyone knew that it was really Inzaghi’s.

Goals like that one, and a similarly late, ugly and overwhelmingly important one against Lyon in the 88th minute of another Champions League game in 2006 are what Inzaghi does best of all. It’s one of his most admirable qualities as a footballer. “He keeps believing to the end,” Kaka says about him “and never gives up”. Inzaghi plays the game in his mind as much as on the pitch, and although this can infuriate his team mates, as he sometimes appears to forget they are there, it also means that he never stops seeing possibilities, until the final whistle, he thinks that he can score.


There’s another film of him from a few months ago, jumping on a less than enchanted Ronaldo after scoring a goal in training. Ronaldo has appeared sick of football for the last few years, never regretting the loss of that genius he had in his youth, once it had bought him what he wanted. Inzaghi is the opposite. He’s never had that effortless ease. He has to work and think for every goal. He does it, it seems, because he loves football. After the Champions League final, he stayed on the pitch for as long as possible, kicking a ball around with his brother, not wanting the game to end.

It’s been a difficult week for Inzaghi; his 100th goal for Milan, scored against Udinese on Sunday was essentially meaningless, as Milan failed to reach the fourth Champions League spot. He seems to be a man of habitual optimism, however; remembering that when he came to Milan in 2001 they were in the UEFA Cup, and that the following season they won the Champions League. According to the Gazetta dello Sport, he kept hoping for a place in the Italy squad until it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen. Inzaghi would have liked a telephone call to tell him, perhaps even a thank you, since it is possibly the end of his international career, but Donadoni doesn’t work like that.

No doubt he’ll recover. “I’m going on holiday,” he said in an interview on Sunday, ”to get ready for another season.” During the break he will celebrate his 35th birthday, a formidable age for a striker at his level of the game, and it looks as if it is going to be a long summer, unless he goes to the Olympics as an over-age player, which is a possibility.

I hope he has a good time. Next season there are goalkeepers to vex, defenders to beat and officials with whom to debate the niceties of the offside law. He needs to get his rest while he can, after all, who knows what can happen, and it’s only two years to the next World Cup.

---

[Ros: Like Pippo, I am in the wilderness myself, although he is on some fabulous beach vacation somewhere, and I am visiting temples in Kerala. A week or so before I'm home. ]

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

staggering genius staggering stupidity

I don't like being the person who says, "This is racist, but..." but there is a difference between coming down hard on stadium racism and chivvying, and the Independent today has crossed the line. Their headline of the roundup of all the hectoring and shouting about Warnings and Consequences should any discrimination against players of colour occur in tonight's Zenit St Petersburg-Rangers final in Manchester is the mellow EUROPE'S MOST RACIST FANS COME TO BRITAIN.

If there was something in the article to back this up, anything along the lines of a study or official statement, it might be condoned as accurate, if still sensationalist. Football journalism thrives on the misleading headline more than ever, though, and at this stage, this is just them making things up early and often [Andy Bull has a frustrated but rational essay on the Guardian blogs right now on the decay of sports news culture, which ties in nicely with some of the things Brian o' The Run Of Play has been talking about recently]. The substance of the report itself is annoying.

Uefa's chief spokesman, William Gaillard, also intervened as the prospect of racist clashes threatened to return to England's terraces. "There will be zero tolerance," he said. "The referee is perfectly in his rights to interrupt the game and not start again until the problem resolves."


No mention of talks with Zenit's authorities, no sign of an official conversation, no -- what's that word? -- respect. It stands to reason that if you want an effective solution to the problem of racism among Zenit's supporters, you would go to negotiate with the Zenit officials and talk over the repercussions of continued bad behaviour, and get them to bear full responsibility for potential incidents. Instead, Gaillard does the same thing he did earlier this year before the Roma leg of the United-Roma CL quarter-final [of which Martha wrote a fine analysis], when he threatened to take next year's final away from the Olimpico if there was violence. A strange way of creating anything like a helpful or productive atmosphere.

From here, all this just looks like bullying. Some of Zenit's supporters are apparently guilty of egregious acts of hate - the Independent carries the details, as well as the low-down on what Dick Advocaat says he didn't say when he implied that Zenit could not hire black players because of fan opposition. It is right to hope that the referee will take the strongest possible action if they are repeated at tonight's game, in my opinion, but the power to take that decision depends on the referee and the situation. To be the second-in-command of UEFA and put out a statement that, if anything, seems designed to get people's backs up and increase hostility and defiance, makes no sense to me. Either I have an disproportionate perception of Gaillard's responsibility, or he does. And this is not even going into the rumblings of the police chief of the city of Manchester, and Britain's Sports Minister [Sports Minister!] all taking their turns at starting a conversation over a press conference.

Nice.

If anyone has a different view of the matter I'd love to hear it.


++

I keep promising myself that I will pull and blog quotes by the bundle out of the book I am currently reading, which is Marcela Mora y Araujo's translation of El Diego: The Autobiography of the World's Greatest Footballer, but every time I try to put the book down and start typing, something happens to take my breath away. In one of my favourite novels, Helen De Witt's The Last Samurai, the protagonist Sibylla gives up her graduate studies in German literature out of frustration with a book she is supposed to read for her thesis, A Roemer's Aristarchs Athetesen in der Homerkritik. Roemer's mode of operation is this, according to Sibylla:

Some of the third-hand notes struck Roemer as brilliant: they were clearly by Aristarchus, who was clearly a genius. Other extracts were too stupid for a genius: clearly by someone else. Whenever someone else was said to have said something brilliant he saw instantly that it was really by Aristarchus, and if any brilliant comments happened to be lying around unclaimed he instantly spotted the unnamed mastermind behind them.

Now it is patently, blatantly obvious that this is insane.


As I read El Diego Sibylla's words keep coming back to haunt me. Roemer's critical method is the way some people live their entire lives. It's a staggering work of imaginative genius. Staggering.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

guest blog: the city that doesn't care. much.

Sofie is a semiotician from Denmark currently working with Rouleur, the cycling magazine of note. She spent the year following Italy's World Cup victory in Bologna, as part of her graduate study. The culture and intellectual traditions of that great city have nothing to do with the fact that, in her own words: "I see small children in Meeelahn shirts at the enormous Tesco down the street occasionally. I am nearly overcome with this urge to hug them. Their parents probably wouldn't approve."

In an email conversation, I asked her to tell me about Bologna and her experience with football among the students of the Universita; this is what she said.


-------------


Bologna is a place that prides itself on being different from all the rest of Italy. Perhaps not less corrupt, but definitely cleaner and smarter and generally nicer. This is, I expect, what you get when half of a city's population are students, and the other half is somehow engaged in the tough business of catering to the manifold needs of said students. Although it is the site of the most recent political murder in Italy – Marco Biagi, a Bolognese professor of economics, was shot and killed in 2002 – and, lest we forget, the Strage di Bologna, crimes committed by the extreme right and the extreme left respectively, Bologna has maintained a self-image of being the friendliest shade of red you'll ever meet. This image may or may not be entirely accurate, but it certainly has its place: in the years since the downfall of fascism and the end of World War II, Bologna has indeed been a bastion for the more left-thinking folk in a country otherwise heavily dominated by Christian Democrats. These left-thinking folk have not always been equally friendly to dissenters, it is true, and the atmosphere in the politically tense 1970's was, I hear tell from those who would know, bordering on what might be called 'slightly explosive'.

And Bologna is different. The Nettuno fountain to be found in the main piazza of the city is positively pornographic, but as the Pope said, "For Bologna, it's ok." The clergy might still make the occasional extremely ill-advised comment about homosexuality, but most of the city's other dignitaries [that is to say, the whole army of highly illustrious professors and lecturers on subjects wide and fascinating] will be rushing to denounce the bishop's foolishness. It can't be helped, I suppose, what with Emilia-Romagna being the most "godless region in all of Italy" and all – a quote which supposedly can be attributed to the late John Paul II. And being different, it can come as no surprise that the sporting obsessions of the Bolognese are just a little bit off as well. They like basketball, you see.

That's not to say that Bologna doesn't have a football team. It does; Bologna Football Club 1909, the rossoblù. It's just that Bologna also has two basketball teams, and they tend to get most of the attention, if not exactly all of it. This is strange, is it not, in a country otherwise so reliably obsessed with calcio? Why should Bologna, of all places, like its football but love its basketball? One tentative guess might be Bologna's recent history in Serie B [at the time of writing, they are placed fourth in Serie B and are heading into the play-offs], but this would seem uncharacteristic of tifosi behaviour: the chants might not necessarily be kind, but a stint in Serie B does not mean that you abandon your club in favour of basketball, delightful game that it is. And things have certainly improved since the 1980's and early 1990's where the team was relegated as far down as Serie C1. Granted, things are not likely to be returning to the stellar heights of 2004 any time soon – but seeing as Hidetoshi Nakata has retired from international football, his return would possibly be too much to hope for [the same, incidentally, could be said of Baggio and the even more stellar heights of the 1997-8 season]. All things considered, they're doing all right. Fans should be rallying under their banners instead of going to see basketball.

Having spent a year looking at Italians with big, blue eyes and making remarks like, "... Going to a football game might also be nice?" you'd think that I'd had some success in that department. I confess that I haven't. And being a coward, I took their advice when they told me that, "And you're not going on your own either, bionda!" [In my defence, only three Italians can get away with calling me "bionda" without having their heads unceremoniously bitten off.] I tried this strategy on many Italians, all of whom were unfortunately very nice young men who were far too nice [and well-educated, if you ask them at the wrong time] to get down and dirty with the unwashed masses at a football match. Football is an activity for those who have already been brainwashed into mindless obedience by Zio Silvio [I use the term with no love whatsoever] and his minions, and they were having none of it. Without having done the empirical, quantitive research I'm sure is necessary to make sweeping statements like this, it seemed that Bologna, the students' city, was taking a stance against the rest of post-war Italy and their silly football obsession.

Football is a good place to start if you want to take a stance against something. It spells things out in very small, but conveniently capitalised words, if you want it to. And Bologna's seeming rejection of football in general and their club in particular does go against the tide in Italy, just as much as Bologna would want to go against the tide in a country that just reelected Zio Silvio. I doubt that this is all there is to it, however, because like all football clubs Bologna F.C. has a history, and it is not entirely pleasant.

Bologna F.C. have won lo Scudetto seven times, by no means bad going for a plucky Serie B side. The last time they won it was in 1964, and this was after a drought that lasted 23 years. Most likely, it'll be another 23 years before Bologna win the Italian league again, if ever, but that's beside the point. The point is that once upon a time, Bologna were a big team. Between 1925 and 1941, Bologna won the league six times. They were one of the richest, most successful clubs in Italy. And they owed much of that success to one man: Leandro Arpinati. A Fascist leader with strong ties to Mussolini, Arpinati was a big fan of football and he wanted his team, Bologna F.C., to do well. His methods relied heavily on simply pouring money into the business of Bolognese football, though he would occasionally try other means if that was not enough to ensure victory – means which even the recently less than Lucky Luciano would probably shy away from. And lo, Bologna won. Bologna even dominated for a while there. And it was all thanks to fascism. [Arpinati was also President of FIGC, the Italian football federation, and among the forces who moved for the creation of the league system still in place today.]

Like most European countries, Italy has its own more or less effective strategies for dealing with the less than nice aspects of its past, and when it comes to fascism one strategy that has gained a lot of popularity over the years is the charmingly simple one of just ignoring it. An understandable strategy [and one that I find more sympathetic that my own country's longstanding tradition of making ourselves out to be nicer than we were], if not a particularly good one in many ways. And Red Bologna which was so heavily under fascist influence and administration – which actually flourished during these years – would hardly want to be reminded of their past by celebrating the fading glory of a football team who were only really awesome when Leandro Arpinati made sure that they were. So Bologna turned to basketball, a game that seems safely unpolitical by comparision, though even such a choice is highly politicised when seen in the right light. In such a context, then, the comfortably centre-left leanings of current Bologna do occasionally look a little bit more like a bad case of denial. Though it could just be that the good people of Bologna just don't like football all that much – so unlikely an explanation that it must be rejected out of hand, of course. Right?


--------------


[Ros: I find this fascinating. I first thought that it has some parallels with the way India's communist states, Kerala and West Bengal, are known for their comparative interest in football, but it actually really only means that they spend a little less time obsessing over cricket than everybody else. I assume they sleep less to accommodate both passions. We have no figure of the stature of Umberto Eco to spearhead an intellectual opposition to either sport.]

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

the failures of civilisation

Photobucket


But, to take a more libertarian tack than you generally do, don't you think inequalities contribute positively to a league in the short run? You can step out on the street where you live, wherever it is, and notice how the modern Manchester United have done wonders for the global profile of English football. Of course, an ideal competition would be balanced out by different kinds of teams, each of them a unique and beautiful snowflake that competes in a balanced, fair league and brings out the best in each other.

...I know.

Anyway, the idea that the IPL is a fair and equal league is holding up for now thanks to two things: the Mumbai Indians discovering some of the form you would expect as a matter of course from the league's most expensive franchise, which allowed them to pull a couple back over the other metros; and the genius of Shane Warne.

As followers of Rajasthan Royals will testify, he has been little short of a revelation in the IPL. Not only has he led the cheapest franchise to the top of the table on the back of five straight wins, he has cajoled his team's unheralded youngsters and - even more difficult, this - almost convinced everyone that he is now best mates with Graeme Smith.

But the pièce de résistance was surely his performance at Thursday evening's post-match press conference, when his verbal destruction of Sourav Ganguly, his opposing captain that night, made grown men wonder how much more entertaining Test cricket would have been if Warne had kept his nose clean and ascended to the captaincy of Australia. Steve Waugh once called Ganguly a "pr!ck" because, among other things, he made Waugh wait at the toss, but Warne was not troubled by such succinctness.

--from The Spin's 'Extras' section.


I do not understand why this man didn't come in to the circus for a lot more cash. It escapes me entirely. I can't emphasise this enough. Either the moneybags running the teams in the metros had a tin ear for how popular he is in India, or they were swayed by the fact that the man buggered off contract to play in a poker tournament when he should have been captaining Hants. The miracle of Warne and his little team from Jaipur, perched at the top of the IPL table as I write this, is proof of how financial swagger is not the ultimate answer to financial swagger, even at the most businesslike end of sport. Money makes a debilitating difference to the teams who don't have it, but it is irrelevant to the qualities that build teams and sustenable systems, instead of mercenary collectives.

Not to be rude or anything, but if there's any chance of the IPL's being an essentially fair and balanced league, you can be sure the people who pay to keep the machine going will do their best to change the situation as soon as possible. If it doesn't happen next year, it will the year after that. And when the situation changes, and when salary caps are blown and teams start looking to establish long-term dominance, the IPL will be lucky if they have teams that can use all that money and buy themselves a brain. Becoming a Manchester United or [even] a Mourinho-inspired Chelsea, and becoming a team of Galacticos, which is the likeliest and most fearful outcome in the IPL environment, are going to yield very different results.

Monday, May 5, 2008

that's not to say he's not a prat

Two days ago I watched Cristiano Ronaldo in an interview with FIFA Futbol Mundial. It was one of those where his face was put in extreme close-up and a translator's voice overlaid his vocals [CRon was speaking in Portuguese]. As I looked at him, my mind was drawn to the back page of a recent edition of the Bombay Times, in which readers are breathlessly told about the serious breach in the relationship of John Abraham and Bipasha Basu caused in July last year. Interested readers will, as a function of memory and desire, or Google, be obliged to recall that this was when Bipasha was in Lisbon for a presentation of the Seven Wonders Of The World list and ended up being photographed making out with Cristiano Ronaldo. The black humour at the heart of this is that Bipasha would probably have had difficulty recognising the man were it not for the fact that John, her boyfriend, is that rare specimen of Bombay manhood, a passionate football fan, thanks to whom Bipasha herself has cultivated a love and understanding of the EPL.

Cough. Anyway, John and Bipasha are back together and doing well [no doubt bound together by the thought that John, had he been in Lisbon that night, would probably have taken a chance on snogging CRon himself] and CRon was on my telly being interviewed about elements of his sporting career [on Sporting Lisbon: 'I think a lot of the young guys there look up to me now'; on Man United: 'The team has certainly changed. We're younger and faster now. This is important in football.']. He was smooth, confident and apparently articulate.

The one moment he truly stumbled was upon being asked, "Who are your sporting idols?" and he had a moment of utter blankness, before he recovered and you could see the brains working behind his shining black eyes. "I would say..." he said, and you could see the words Okay wait, there's that guy? The short dumpy one, the one that everyone likes? What's his name? hover about his head before he said, in quiet, satisfied triumph, "...Diego Maradona. I, er, watched a lot of his videos as a child."

He walks in no man's shadow. He can steal Bollywood beauties away from their devoted households, carry off tomato red boots, score rashes of goals, and keep the frosting on his hair intact all the while. There is no equivalent force to CRon in this world. You couldn't put him on a list of the world's 100 most influential people. Like Helen of Troy, he breeds worshipful despair, not inspiration.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

but wait, there's more

Mumbai,
May 1, 2008.

As someone who has whinged and moaned all season about an impending Champions' League final exclusively made up of bits of the Premier League East India Company, I reserve my right to backtrack and admit to a change of opinion. Perhaps its only the money and power after all, and perhaps it has something to do with the way football itself is filmed and televised, but to all appearances, the English clubs were the ones who did not blink first, and if they did, they took care to make the other side pay for their own lapse. This seems to be the basis of progress in modern cup competitions. And after having seen the first hour of an excellent match between United and Chelsea last week, perhaps it would not be out of the question to imagine that the match in Moscow will have something of the piratical and fearless about it. I didn't whinge when Italy and France went to Berlin, and I'm not going to whinge now.

Football is composed of drama. Last night there were two stories at loggerheads with each other, and Chelsea won the right to see theirs to a finish. We are all captivated on a day-to-day basis by the banalities of the teams we love, but there is arguably nothing small or banal about what is going on at Chelsea and Liverpool at the moment. Perhaps, perhaps, there is something a little less romantic [or less sordid?] about Chelsea's postmodern crisis of identity and too much being worse than too little, but for better or worse [I no longer dare say] they represent the change in English football more than any other team in the EPL, and if they - the players, the shady young oligarch, the coach, all of them - are serious about making history, then there is no better time to provide some answers to the neutrals.

I haven't been impressed with the way United have shaped up over the last couple of games, but hey, it's not like they're playing for my benefit. I do think their capacity for magnificence [successful magnificence, that is] has been unmatched this year, and as the respectful whispers about walking in the shadow of Munich begin circulating in the media, I think it would be nice to see some of that commitment to bold, beautiful football back again.

So I'm also interested in the Premier League title race in spite of myself. It would be a sour victory for my East India Company prejudices if one of them blinked now.

Friday, April 18, 2008

such men are dangerous

The thing that has made me feel most at home, every time I have returned to my home city after a spell elsewhere, has been the unlimited access to media bilge. In both Hyderabad and Calcutta newspapers were solely read online, and TV was thin on the ground. So while the first evening home is, for me, about the ineffable pleasure of seeing the city lit up at night and sitting down to a meal of the maternal making, the morning after is when the fact of my being in Bombay really hits home: I brush my teeth, grab my dish of tea, and sit down to lose myself in the gutter press. Ah, Mumbai Mirror, I say to myself, taking up the supplement and peering upon its foetid plumpness. Oh, Bombay Times, I sigh, flipping through the diamond jewellery ads and plugs for chocolate-making classes. Mid-Day, I coo, my good old Mid-Day, as I set out after lunch to the library and take a copy of the world's greatest afternoon tabloid to while away the train journey to Churchgate.

This time the pleasure has been dampened considerably. Part of it may have to do with my sprained ankle, but most of it has to do with a phenomenon so abominable it seems to have sprung fully-formed out of the editorial black hole formed at the heart of the Times of India. It is called the Indian Premier League, and is a Twenty20 cricket tournament that threatens to stretch on for the next forty-five days over the length and breadth of the country. City will fight city like armies on a darkling plain. The teams are named after mosquito repellents and beers. They are owned by business tycoons and Bollywood superstars. I say teams -- I really mean an egregious collection of star cricketers from all over the world who agreed to be auctioned off to the highest bidders for the pleasure of earning themselves a tidy packet.

I have little beef with the Twenty20 format -- there's too much advertising and the uniforms are unseemly [if you go to today's edition of the Daily Telegraph, you will see that England's Twenty20 kit looks like Liverpool's football jersey.] but in this day and age it does feel like an intolerable snobbery to yearn after the traditional form of a game that simply cannot be watched in a sustained fashion by anyone who has to earn their daily bread, and while the short-short may be a difficult format for bowlers, I think, like all reasonable sporting innovation, it may be the chance to bring about some sort of unforeseen but positive development in an aspect of the game itself. Mike Brearley wrote a fine piece for the Observer in which he talks more about the advantages of the Twenty20 game, and the creative demands it may make on spin bowling, among other things.

But I'll tell you what. You live in the same country as this money-spinning exercise, this IPL, and you tell me if it doesn't make you want to vomit. Did you ever imagine the day Rahul Dravid would buckle down with the boot of Vijay Mallya upon his neck? Rahul Dravid leading a team called the Royal Challengers? The cynicism of this whole deal almost makes the English Premier League look like a non-profit organisation to bring culture to the colonies. Who the hell are the Kolkata Knight Riders? Bitch, I say, please.

[A note about the name of the 'team' representing the financial clout of my hometown: I don't know why they're called the Mumbai Indians. It's either an incredibly tasteless attempt to borrow from one of your American sports teams' appropriation of Native American history, or a breathtakingly arrogant play on the city's status as a microcosm of the country. I harbour the forlorn hope that it is the latter, in spite of my determination to pay them no mind. The angriest nuns are often the most partisan.

The reason I know they are called the Mumbai Indians is that today, there was a plug in the papers describing some sort of ceremony to anoint the mercenaries of this particular collective. The rite they held ended in the entire team having a tika applied to their foreheads that contained, among other things, soil from the grounds of Shivaji Park. As anyone with a passing interest in the history of Indian cricket will know, Shivaji Park is the arid, dusty space in the centre of the city that has been a breeding ground for the glorious cricket teams of Bombay, and whence some of the greatest names of the Indian game. The same culture out of which the IPL has sprung has changed, perhaps irreversibly, the role of Shivaji Park, and the Oval, and other amateur academies in big cities all over the country. I'm not sitting in judgment of developments. I just want to remark on the coincidence.]

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

handbags. no, really. handbags.

My flight from Calcutta to Mumbai was interminable, and to stave off crushing boredom I spent my time copying amusing passages from John Foot's comprehensive, if Inter-biased Calcio, a handy tome for everyone with a desire to learn more about Italian football, or for those requiring a reference that will tell you useful things about what Denis Law really got up to in his time in Italy, and so on.

His chapters on the Lazio of the Seventies and the chequered career of Giorgio Chinaglia are unimprovable, although you could never argue that he had to struggle with his raw material. This is what I mean:

--The Lazio team of the 1970s was often involved in violence, on and off the pitch. The most infamous incidents of all involved two English clubs - Arsenal and Ipswich - both of whom played against Lazio in Europe in the Fairs Cup, a forerunner of the UEFA Cup, in the 1970s. Arsenal were holders of the trophy when they drew Lazio in the first round of the 1970 competition. Two John Radford goals at home put the Gunners in control, but Chinaglia struck twice near the end to snatch a draw. The match had been dirty, but everything seemed to have been smoothed over at a luxurious dinner in a central Rome restaurant. The two teams sat at separate tales, apart from Chinaglia, who chatted amiably with his old Swansea teammate, Arsenal's defender, John Roberts. Then, without warning, all hell broke loose.

There are different versions as to what sparked the fight. According to one, the trouble began when the Arsenal players complained about the 'effeminate' little bags they were given as presents by Lazio, and started throwing them about. Years later, Roberts would say, in a kind of sartorial mea culpa, 'looking back those leather purses were lovely...in those days British men wouldn't have carried them around but now they would.' In any case, a Lazio player threw one of the purses into Bob McNab's face, and then grabbed his ear. Soon, 'the refined restaurant was transformed into a bar full of pirates fighting over their treasure.' The players piled outside and laid into each other, egged on by the two managers, including Lorezo, the Argentinian who had led his national team during the 1966 World Cup, and perhaps had a score or two to settle. Incredibly, Chinaglia stayed out of it.


Would attempting to link the modern use of the term 'handbags' in football to this incident be purposeless? I see it as a sort of chicken-and-egg thing, myself

Friday, April 11, 2008

mohun bagan 2-2 new york cosmos

To celebrate my last forty-eight hours in Calcutta I feel I can do no better than to set down here the story of a football game, as told to us tonight by Abhijit, to whom all credit must be given for the following narrative.

In 1977, former gateway of the British Empire and present cauldron of intellectual ferment and revolution, the great city of Calcutta, played host to an extraordinary game: the last-but-one ever played by the legend, O Rey himself, Pele. Yes, the New York Cosmos flew down to play a match against Mohun Bagan FC, one half of Asia's oldest derby and the pride of [several] Indian football fans everywhere. The city was in an uproar. Everywhere little booklet biographies of Pele were published, sold and bought in droves. [Abhijit still has one of them], Calcutta having always been a literary city, and the merchandising juggernaut as yet a glint in the eye of international football [one assumes]. The game was to be played at Eden Gardens at the end of September. Pele arrived, but with him came a torrential monsoon shower, leaving the pitch clogged with water. The great man was seen looking upon the sight of the slush with sombre countenance, and the city worried: would they see him play at all?

They did, the day after. Abhijit went to watch the game at a neighbour's, where the crowd around the television was about forty- or fifty-strong. Everyone had gathered to take in the sight of Pele. As these things often go, though, he was largely anonymous. Perhaps it was the slush that put him off his game. At any rate, Mohun Bagan scored two brilliant goals, and the Cosmos were one behind. Pele's genius asserted itself in one single moment, a long, curling free-kick that was saved by Shivaji Bandhopadhyay, the MBFC goalkeeper, in what was undoubtedly the moment of the match. The match, the only chance an Indian team ever had to play against Pele, chugged closer and closer to being the only chance an Indian team ever had to play and win against Pele, when, in the seventieth minute, the all-too-thinkable occurred - the referee awarded the Cosmos a dodgy penalty. It was taken and buried by Giorgio Chinaglia, and Pele had himself an undeserved, but by no means begrudged, draw.

++

Over thirty years later Calcutta has a football stadium in Salt Lake that can hold as many spectators as the Maracana itself. The weather is still unpredictable, as far as I can tell from my limited first-hand experience. It may rain before May 27th, but hopefully it will be a better pitch that greets Oliver Kahn, who will play his last game for Bayern Munich and professional football on that day in this city, against Mohun Bagan. Will the little biography booklets [printed off Wikipedia?] sell alongside the fake jerseys now? Will the crowd chant his name as they did Pele's on that day? Yes, I think, and yes, I'm sure. I am told that Baichung Bhutia, India's captain and Mohun Bagan's foremost talent, has expressed a profound fear of what it might mean to Indian football if this game, played on both sides to the full extent of their capabilities, is taken to its logical ends, which would surely result in the sort of scoreline for which San Marino's national team makes 'Oddly Enough' football headlines now and again. Could he take heart from the thought that Toni and Ribery, to name just two, will almost certainly not be there to terrorise his fragile back line? Could he forget, for a moment, that India believes that it has more to lose from a sporting defeat now than it did in 1977, and remember instead that he belongs to a team that almost put one over Pele himself?

I rooted about and found this colourful account of the Cosmos-MB game, which tells the story without the singular verve of Abhijit's account, to which I have done little justice, but with le belle emozioni, as Giorgio Chinaglia himself might say.

++

Speaking of [in] Italian, here is a fact: very little on my Reader affords me a pleasure as unalloyed as today's Gazzetta headline: Mutu come Batistuta Viola senza limiti. Rangers next. Who knows what dreams may come?

[And speaking of Bhutia, a reminder of what he has been in the headlines for, other than being nervous about facing a goal with Oliver Kahn in it in the near future: he is one of the world's first athletes to have refused to carry the Olympic torch this year. The quiet dignity of his expression of solidarity with the Tibetan freedom movement has not prevented him from becoming a hero in this country. I am very glad of his existence.]

Saturday, April 5, 2008

the face of fear

It was easy enough to sustain writing about football with no real access to it for two months, but then it kind of palled, and this whole business about the Champions' League being dominated by the English and William Gaillard airily threatening to take the CL final away from Rome if there was trouble in the city during their game with Manchester United really got me down for a while. As I write this India has just lost a test to South Africa by an innings and 90 runs, which is as shameful as anything I remember from the dark years of '96-'97. And I'm trying not to claw my face off in pain from a pair of sinuses inflamed by Bengali weather's moody inclemence. [Either that, or it was the mouldy stuff in the fr...no, Mum, no, I'm kidding. We clean it out every week and restock the vegetables every three days, for real.]

I will be back in Bombay next week, though, so once the hopeful self-medication works/the European semis roll around, I should hopefully be back in business on Blogger.

An innings and ninety runs. And the worst of it is, I'm not even surprised.

Oh, PS, though: Pippo Inzaghi scored a brace today. It was like picking Leave It To Psmith off the bookshelves after a middling absence and finding it as hilarious as the last time you read it.

Friday, March 7, 2008

ten miles a minute totti

This week's Guardian Unlimited Football Weekly [Extra] is a marvellous listen. Fernando Duarte provides a great overview of the situation at the Zico-coached Fenerbahce, and has a gold star moment when he describes their gameplan as playing "with the knife between their teeth - like pirates." Bitter Hoops fan Kevin McCarra has a diatribe against Milan so ripe, it could come have come from a French guard in Monty Python & The Holy Grail.

Perhaps best of all, the podcasters indulge in a moment of unadulaterated contempt for Graeme Souness and Sky's coverage of the Real-Roma game. "If he was that good, he'd have gone to a big club long ago," Souness said about Francesco Totti last year, to an embarrassed Ruud Gullit. Last night, after Roma's victory, he was apparently heard to remark, "Totti? Was he even playing?"

If Souness was as lazy a player as he is a pundit I presume he'd never have had a job at Sky in the first place. Football is mired in incompetence, and nowhere more so than in its television coverage.

I suppose Totti is more susceptible to questions regarding his motives for staying on at Roma than the likes of del Piero & Maldini have been -- unlike them, his loyalty can be more easily interpreted as a lack of ambition. But there are players who are upholders of tradition, and there are those who are trailblazers. I think Maradona at Napoli is probably a much better comparison to make. At the very least, both players at the height of their influence have been abhorred, the way Maldini [understandably] and del Piero [much less so] have never been. Power and its exercise are delicate, delicate things, and I don't think anyone who has been the sort of symbol and galvanising force Totti has been to Roma has been able to do so without attracting considerable attention to their own flawed individualism. It takes all sorts: history is about the Agamemnons of the world, but there would be no poetry without Achilles.

Perhaps that's too whimsical [or old-fashioned]. Certainly, given how up close and in our faces our footballing idols are, I don't think his detractors are entirely to blame if he reminds them more of Brad Pitt flexing his entitlement muscles than an actual demigod. I think that, at the very least, without Totti's committment to Roma, they would not have two of Italy's most talented players nail their colours as firmly to the Giallorosso mast as they have now. de Rossi & Aquilani seem to be the future of the club, and without Totti and his tribal loyalty, they might never have had a reference point.

And I'm certainly hoping that Donadoni admits that playing a Roma-centric midfield in his first team at Euro 2008 might actually yield better results than his overreliance on the Ambro-Pirlo-Gattuso triad, as things stand. Then again, fragile as Pirlo looks, he doesn't seem to pull a muscle every time he turns over in his sleep, which is what poor 'berto does. He was as beautiful on Wednesday night, from what I saw of the highlights, as Andrea was not.

++

Good news for fans of the vintage Italy Offside - "wor" Martha - even she who taught me that bit of Geordie-speak - has established herself at Colpo di Testa, where she already has an excellent essay on Manuel Rui Costa up. Welcome back!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

fenerbahce to moscow?

Hello. I'm gutted about Milan, but at least this way I won't have to worry about them collapsing on pitch for exhaustion. It could still happen, but nothing quite sets the pulse racing disturbingly like a night in Europe, and unless Inter smuggle Nesta & Kaladze in to their centre-back positions next week, giving them bad haircuts in the hope that no one will notice they're not from the right side of town, that's a kick the rossoneri's "DNA of Champions" is going to have to do without.

But Sevilla-Fenerbahce. What a pity one of those two had to go out, huh? Of course, there's always the argument to be made that a defensive display appalling enough to allow the final score over 210 minutes to stand at 5-5 is no great shakes, but come on. If an English side had been in a game like that we'd never be hearing the end of it in the international media.

Roma-Real in about six minutes. I see La Gazzetta says "tutta l'Italia" are behind i lupi. I just hope it makes a positive difference.

Monday, February 25, 2008

as the internet would say, LOL.

Eduardo's breaking ankle will be the nightmarish after-image this weekend leaves in the minds of most people. Here's hoping he recovers well and as rapidly as possible, and much the same to Adrian Mutu, whose injury this weekend in Fiorentina's game against Roma has come at a horrible moment for the Viola, who are in the UEFA Cup's last 16 and playing peek-a-boo at fourth spot in Serie A, whence Milan dislodged them last night, for the first time this year. May Everton be dazzled by the force of the Bobo, who becomes their #1 striking option now.

If it weren't for these, this weekend might have gone down as the funniest one all season. Juventus lost to Reggina on a soft penalty. They're writing letters to FIGC about it this morning. It's unbelievable. A season in B has apparently done nothing to dent a sense of entitlement that would -- how to find the words for it? -- that would put Milan to shame.

Football Italia reports that
Ahead of Tuesday evening’s derby, city rivals Torino have reacted with little sympathy to Juventus’ complaints
.


“Poor Juve, having to be treated like everyone else,” a statement from supporters group Toro Club reads.


They really are calcio royalty -- the prurient interest and perverse pride that so many fans take in supporting them is matched only by the resentment and derision harboured by others. I forget who wrote a novel I once read about Queen Elizabeth being forced to re-locate to a suburban housing project after a disastrous Parlimentary election. Perhaps in time Juve's Cadetti season will take on a similarly absurd quality.

Then, of course, there's Marco Borriello, best known for his profile shots in Milan's annual D&G calendar and the Incident With The Ointment [Paolo Bandini's weekly Italia roundup in the Guardian recounts it today]. Bundled off in disgrace to Genoa at the end of last season by a fastidious Milan, he now sits at the top of the capocannoniere lists of the season. Chris has video links.

And over in Spain, Arjen Robben noticed there was something badly wrong about the goal he scored.

that football ... it's not where i left it


Tim Stannard squees. I think it's Sergio Ramos who truly brings the picture to life.

[Thanks to Martha for the pic. I'm so glad you're watching football other than Newcastle these days, bb. *ducks*]

Sunday, February 24, 2008

you ask, he answers

I.

Yesterday I renewed my British Council Library membership and celebrated by checking out, among other things, the December 2007 edition of FourFourTwo. Football experts will know that this is British football's matey, laddish monthly chronicle. Those with good memories will instantly recall, too, that this particular edition bears an alarming picture of a smiling Arsène Wenger who, the inner pages will reveal, is in fact a (money) plant on the part of Nike and one of their new coaching initiatives.

We can look at Arsène Lupin instead.


I am a big fan of the 'Arsène knows' maxim, mostly because of its powers to offend non-Gooners. I admire Wenger and his teams. I think he is intelligent and eloquent, much like Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho are, in their own distinct ways. [I swear that is not a backhanded compliment.] In the absence of patriarchal club owners who run their teams as they would their families or their shady businesses, people like Ferguson and Wenger must necessarily occupy the centre of attention in English football's corporate power structures.

As a cultural outsider who is, to all intents and purposes, an Anglophile, Wenger's perspective is valued to an immoderate degree by his adoring populace, and others besides. His opinions are worthy of attention, even when he is being disingenuous, and he is that very often. I suspect it may have given more than one outraged football fan a moment's pause when, contrary to the reservations of practically every club bigwig who was asked their opinion about the 39th Game issue, Wenger actually claimed he thought it would be a good idea. Flabbergasting, from a man who one would assume to have thought of the physical wear-and-tear, the mathematical integrity of the league, and every other good argument against the proposal long before the rest of us had. Might he have seen something there that we were missing? His reasoning appeared simple to a fault: he said he thought fans in other countries deserved a chance to see their teams in action.

In this interview with FourFourTwo, presumably conducted at least two months before the Scudamore storm broke, Wenger was asked the inevitable question about the un-Englishness of his teams, and he said, wisely, that he would fight against every notion of a quota. Then he was asked, by a reader from Birmingham, about whether he thought football had lost its moral compass. His answer was:

Football has a worldwide responsibility because every big game in the Premier League is watched by 500 to 700 milllion people - sometimes a billion people. Imagine a kid sitting in India or in South Africa watching Wayne Rooney or Fabregas - the kind of influence these people have in the world is highly important. Also, I believe that in our countries that have such a history of war, multi-cultural teams can show a harmonious way to live and achieve things together. Sport has a responsibility on that front. [...]

I'm not certain whether he's lying about this, or about his discomfort with the idea of managing England because he "wouldn't know which anthem to sing" if his team ever played France [an opinion he repeats in this interview]. I get the feeling he is completely sincere about both. He is contemptuous of international football. '...because they destroyed it,' he says. 'Take Russia: once it was one country and now it's 21. Yugoslavia was one and now is six. As a result the level has dropped. Then you add countries like Andorra, Faroe Islands and San Marino and suddenly three games out of four are of no interest.'

Perhaps he believes himself incapable of the collective anti-nationalist meritocracy he seems to envision for the sporting world, but holds out hope for his charges and for all the kiddums in India and South Africa losing every sense of place and time as they watch Rooney and Fabregas being one-size-fits-all idols. He makes a clear distinction between what he perceives as 'big' and 'small' concerns - one presumes it's perfectly alright for coaches of San Marino or Kazakhstan to be of a different nationality, since they're not big enough to be awkward about their nationhood, anyway. There is a practical sense in his making this distinction, as far as the coach issue goes: countries trying to develop their football culture will feel justified in adopting ways and workers from already-established countries in a way that the big guns might not. But this isn't what Wenger is advocating - in spite of fearing his own nationalism, he seems unwilling to tolerate it in others.
There is a certain kind of libertarianism that believes that the breakdown of social controls will allow for new, less unjust ways for entities to relate to each other. I don’t think it applies successfully in sport. Wenger opposes the nationalism that creates divisions in sport, but he does it without considering the other sources of power that divide people. Money, for one. Does falling on the right side of that particular divide allow him to ignore it entirely? Is it, in fact, possible to see the glorious rise of a fandom sans frontiers without seeing how very imbalanced it would be?
I find this so frankly ridiculous a thought, the idea that the EPL going to the ends of the world to play their 39th game is "for the fans," that when Wenger came out and said just that, I did a double-take, and walked myself back through his proclamations, trying to find evidence that he is Ligue 1 counterintelligence of some order. It's an appealing sort of notion, but if it isn't the case, then I'm going to hope that everyone who says 'Arsène Knows' does so with at least a tinge of irony.

II.

Does he know, however, to beat Milan? I believe he does. I believe that Arsène does know enough to take on the entire establishment that is propping up this particular Milan team - laboratories, tactical traditions, at least a century of collective European experience on the pitch, it's absurd to to suggest that there's anything so simple as a one-on-one coach-off at work here - but it appears, more than any other tie in this round so far, to come down to the uncertainties of the night.

Inter, on the other hand (where my face is currently resting, dejected). Are unspeakable.

III.

Following on the last post about Paolo Maldini: the Telegraph did not stop there. Henry Winter, writing the day after the game at the Emirates, said

Paolo Maldini was particularly magnificent, embodying Milan's refusal to yield a centimetre.

Even in the cynical world of modern football, an opponent's brilliance can be respected. Even a man whose job it is to destroy can be saluted. At half-time, Maldini was embraced by Emmanuel Adebayor, the Arsenal striker he was paid to frustrate. At the final whistle, the great Italian defender was applauded from the field by Arsenal's admiring supporters. Maldini responded with a smile of appreciation and a brief wave before disappearing down the tunnel.

Even at 39 [...] Maldini looked like he had just stepped from the catwalk at Milan fashion week.


I'm glad he's getting his adulation from a crowd that generally finds it convenient to hate Italian football, but this is just suspicious. Does no one have anything to say against him?

... I'm a little afraid of the answer to that. Ruud Gullit has a 'My Perfect XI' at the back of the FourFourTwo, and predictably, over a third come from il grande Milan: Rijkaard at central midfield, Baresi at centre-back (Gullit plays a flat back four), Marco 'the man' van Basten in front, and Maldini at left-back. "Position for position one of the greatest players ever," he says about him.

About van Basten he says, "He was also a vicious player. If defenders tried to kick him, he would kick them back. He knew how to look after himself on the pitch." Small comfort for a man whose career was hacked away by the time he was 28? But oddly true to life, even for someone who has only ever known him as a YouTube superhero and the really unpleasant man who manages Holland.

Gullit's pick to play up front along side van Basten? van Basten's new boss, Johann Cruyff. There is a very funny novel in there somewhere. I'm sure of it.

IV.

All this talk of defenders and hair [for we talk not of defenders without talking of their hair] and Ursus' comments have made me want to write about Alessandro Nesta. Count this as prior warning, Martha.

V.

I still need a job. Recently discovered: Mills & Boon have an India branch. Could I write pulp romance? We have been reading a slew of their ghastly novellas of late. Like Baldrick hoping to marry into the aristocracy, I could look into bringing the system down from the inside.

Monday, February 18, 2008

a very long engagement

Tributes in the form of verbal fellatio are already being offered to Paolo Maldini. Yes, again. We can only presume that this is in the wake of his impending ejection from his European hunting grounds -- if Milan live to progress to the quarter-finals of this year's Champions' League no doubt there will be another round of articles, and then another, and then, on the slim chance of his arriving at Moscow, a final glorious barrage of attention.


So what kind of man is this who can dispossess Diego Maradona and force Zinedine Zidane to seek refuge on the other side of the park? Maldini shrugs his shoulders as if to say: "Just doing my job." His acceptance speech after winning World Soccer magazine's player of the year award in 1996 went something like: "What, me? I'm a defender."

Most women would risk their long-term relationships for half an hour with him. He's impossibly good-looking, even by Italian standards; he's captain of the world club champions; a euro-billionaire and a male model. If pushed, he'll host your disco.


Okay, so I'd better get *my* sentimental tribute piece in before it's too late.

The accompanying photograph to the Telegraph piece carries the caption: "Paolo Maldini has won everything in his playing career." I have always found this a very imperfect truth when describing this man among men. My first acquaintance with Paolo Maldini was at France '98 [I have memories of '94, but they are dim, and mostly of Maradona's drug bust and the slumped shoulders of Roberto Baggio] and that, and subsequent re-acquaintances, always ended in almost comic disaster: that penalty shootout, Trezeguet's golden goal, Byron Moreno, 4-0 at the Riazor. Paolo Maldini is the only man in that elite class of legends, peopled by the likes of Maradona and Beckenbauer, who can honestly claim to have lost at least as much, and as dramatically, as he has won. It's one of the reasons I like him unreservedly. He calls to mind the 'If you can face triumph and disaster/and treat those two impostors just the same' line that is one of If's better moments. Perhaps not as deserving of the plaudit as someone like Franco Baresi, since he is and always has been the child of fortune, but deserving enough.

Maradona, in his autobiography, said Maldini was too pretty to be a footballer, which I think says some very interesting things about Maradona. But I, too, have always thought that Paolo is one of the nicest-looking men we are likely to come upon in our lifetimes. Which is why it amused me when the Telegraph article made apparently innocent reference to "that trademark central parting." Fans of the inimitable James Richardson and his quips about Cesare Maldini will know why this is such sweet sorrow. I prefer the windblown curls of his late twenties myself, but the style appears, like the bandieri of Italian football, to be an anachronism.



Going back to pretending that football doesn't exist for the next little while now. It's been an unpleasant couple of weeks, even by Milan's low standards for the season, and I admit that the Milan-Arsenal tie is now giving me a clammy forehead and shaking hands. I have taken to sublimating this with neurotic Inter-baiting.

PS. How exactly does one 'host a disco' in this day and age? Do you rent out the strobe lights or something? The lycra costumes? The shady drugs? Is there money in it? I will need a job in a couple of months.

[Found the picture I was looking for - thanks, Neko.]

Thursday, February 7, 2008

aargh

Wow. More English football. How thrilled I am not.

Hopefully by 2011 Internet penetration in India will have reached the stage where streaming and webcasting are widely supportable, and an entire underbelly of rebels can switch off ESPN for good. And watch the Copa Libertadores. Or the African Cup of Nations. Or go out in the sunshine and watch something, anything else. (Which I missed the chance to do a bare couple of weeks ago - I slept through the Mohun Bagan-East Bengal derby, and a Baichung brace, at that. I suck - as do East Bengal, sadly.)

This is why my first thought on hearing that England hadn't qualified for Euro 2008 was paranoid fear that the sporting networks in their wisdom would assume that us dollar signs in Manchester United tee-shirts would not in fact need to watch the tournament at all. One could argue that a Euro-centric tournament once every four years is enough, certainly. But there will be so much hell to pay if I don't get to see Donadoni and van Basten shake hands on the touchline.

DONADONI: van Basten. It's been ages.
VAN BASTEN: You can say that again, er. ...Costacurta, wasn't it?




Almost makes you wish Capello was in on the party.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

belonging, or not

+ Steven Wells writes a piece about presidential candidates and football that excites me greatly in its disparaging, contemptuous and altogether callous dismissal of the football writing of Franklin Foer. The continuing attempts at satirising Foer descend into waffliness [after all, at some point of time you would like to get over the Foer joke and go into why Hillary Clinton couldn't be anything but a Man United fan] but the article, on the whole, demonstrates why those who did not read Foer's book, "How Soccer Football Explains The World," are missing out on rich opportunities for mockery. I will not go into overlong detail here, except to say in Franklin's favour that he is at least slightly more readable than Jonathan.

+ Yesterday, I wrote about my distaste for the gratuitous flag-waving that accompanied India's cricket victory at Perth. I failed to clarify that I have no feelings whatsoever for the Indian flag, within or 'out a sporting context. This was partly due to the fact that I was sleepy, and partly because, functional democracy or no, India still is a place where you can get into serious trouble -- with the police and the court and everything. I am not kidding, guys. -- for 'disrespecting' the flag in any way, shape or form, and I got a little paranoid. That's right. The flag. Disrespecting the freaking flag. Tonight I feel ashamed enough of my miniscule act of cravenness to come right out and admit that the Indian flag could die tomorrow and take no part of my selfhood with it.

+ I'm not even particularly community-oriented, not in any way that's not meritocratic and possibly somewhat elitist. I would protest very much if someone tried to get me to commit to an institution for the sole purpose of demonstrating a sense of belonging to it. But I do realise the importance of acknowledging a need to belong. Like Gandhianism, and happy endings, the truly positive and truly liberal group identity is a Platonic ideal that improves our worldview for cherishing it. Whether identifying as one Barcelona* fan among many is a step forward in this direction or not [and if you're Joan Laporta reading this, please be advised that I am not optimistic about the chances] is, for the moment, an ineffable question. But it is a question whose parameters are constantly evolving, and nowhere have I seen this expressed better than Brian's subtly-wrought, richly poetic musing on identity and alienation here. Highly, highly recommended reading.


* - I say Barcelona because Franklin Foer, a self-confessed Barca man, devotes an entire chapter in his book to describing how the club is demonstrative of the excellence of nationalism, which, in spite of anything Martha Nussbaum wants you to believe, is actually the way forward for humanity. It is not the most annoying thing I have ever read -- he does one on Iran and football liberating women towards the end -- but it's a bit like having a pig's head thrown at you when you're trying to take a corner.

+ I forgot to mention earlier. I contributed a piece on tolerance and marketing in football, partly re-worked from this post, to Pitch Invasion, the seminal football website of our time. If you don't already read PI [...probably just you then, Mom], you must anon.

+ Finally, a link that has nothing to do with football, but everything to do with life, love and literature: Dario Fo's Nobel acceptance speech, which the roommate discovered I hadn't read yet, and amended speedily.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

cricket: truthiness will out

After a couple of truly beautiful weeks of cricket which allowed us to forget how disgusted we are with the institutions and (some of) the people who run, play and watch the game, it is only proper that we report the whimper that rounds of the series of bangs rocketing about the test at Sydney and the now infamous race row: A court of law has overturned the ban on Harbhajan Singh for his alleged racist remarks. In the face of a dearth of admissible evidence this will appear, to the armchair legal eagles among us, a sensible sort of conclusion to reach. The Guardian's Andy Bull believes otherwise.

While there is no clear explanation of what has happened in this case, the sport will continue to consume itself with accusations and suspicions that something far more Machiavellian in scope has transpired behind the closed doors and among the murky corridors of the ICC. The ongoing, irritating stone-throwing between the baser elements of fans, officials, players and journalists on either side of the sub-continent power bloc v the Anglo-Australian power bloc divide will run on unabated. This is not going to help the sport to be comfortable with its own evolution.


Someone was always going to be shafted by the outcome of this appeal. Had Justice Hansen decided to let the original decision to ban Harbjahan Singh stand, Singh would have been the victim of a trial that would seem unfair in any democratic court of law. If the appeal overturned Mike Procter's verdict, it would put Procter's credentials, already shaky after his famously inept handling of the Darrell Hair affair, in some jeopardy.

I'll admit to being disappointed at the Guardian's knee-jerk reaction to this development, but given the self-righteous frenzy of imagined vindication that is likely to be breaking out around India's news channels right now [and how glad I am that I don't have a telly around at the moment] I suppose it strikes a reasonable balance.

It's been a bad month to be an old-fashioned, repressed codger of a cricket fan. If the appalling lack of civility on display in the Syndey test was not enough, the sight of Harbhajan Singh, banned for the match in Perth, jumping on to the field waving the Indian flag in celebration (after a victory that left most of us witless with joy, admittedly) was detestable in its own special way.



Cricket is a sport played, at the highest level, by roughly fifteen nations, all of whom, at some point of time or other, have been in unhealthy imperial relationships with each other. Nationalism becomes more unpleasant than usual in this atmosphere. And while there's an amount of jingoistic grandstanding permissible in an all-or-nothing knockout tournament like a World Cup, it's a bit ludicrous to come out and unfurl your national colours after a game whose result is the exception to a long and unflattering rule. India has lost a lot more matches in Australia than it has won, and there is absolutely no reason to suppose that the national flag was sullied by those defeats, any more than it acquired some kind of miraculous sheen by a win like this. I can't think of a single Indian in whom the mawkish, manipulative sight of that flag inspired a pride or joy more intense than what it felt like to see this.

Did a 19-year-old from Delhi, slim as a girl and strong as a boy, end an era? You had to have been watching to appreciate the full extent of Ishant Sharma's murderous Saturday-morning spell to Ricky Ponting. This was Ponting as not seen before, a Ponting without reply. If the Australian captain is not his country's second-best batsman of all time, at the very least he is among the top five. For more than an hour Sharma picked him apart until he cut him open.


[Alright, maybe the English got a bit more excited about someone, anyone, being able to stand up to Oz than they should have -- here's hoping poor Ishant Sharma's teenage friends don't read the Telegraph, or he'll never hear the end of 'slim as a girl, strong as a boy' jokes -- but the cricket at Perth was its own reward.]