It’s a question we all keep asking ourselves. Especially when we see countries some plagued by civil wars, some with populations of about a million, do it every four years.
The question is obvious: why do we have the worst record in the world (well almost) when it comes to qualifying for the World Cup?
It’s not that we were always like this. Mohun Bagan were the first Asian side to beat an European team in 1911. We missed qualifying for the 1950 World Cup only because we were used to playing barefoot and the World Cup stipulated the wearing of shoes. Throughout the 50s and the 60s, India remained one of the top Asian soccer powers.
But by the 80s and 90s , things had reached their present nadir. PSV Eindhoven, a club team from the Netherlands, were thrashing India in friendlies—-10 goals per match were pumped past the hapless Indians. In the three matches we played against them, India found the back of PSV’s net only once (as far as I can remember) and that too from the foot of Chibuzor, a Nigerian first XI discard who together with Cheema Okerie (also a Nigerian never-been) and Jamshed Nassiri (Iran) were the “stars” of the Calcutta maidan firmament along with some home-grown men like Bidesh Bose and Prasun Banerjee.
Even these “stars”, who to be honest could never hold a candle to their international compatriots, have now vanished: in the World Cup 2006 qualifiers, we lost all but one game and had the ignominy of having been handed a 0–7 drubbing by Japan and a 1–5 by Oman.
And so like every year we are reduced to cheering other countries as they battle for glory in the World Cup—-with football loving Bongs cheering for Brazil simply because there are a few Bong sounding names in the team like Kaka (uncle), Dida (grandmother) and suchlike.
However this impotent backing of other countries, because our country is not good enough, is coming to an end.
Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, effectively the president for life (ala Idi Amin) of the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) has announced “Project World Cup”—by which India will be one of the teams playing in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Of course, critics point out the fact that the Honorable minister has been saying this for many many years now—usually to justify his one month fact-finding missions (paid by tax payer’s money) to the World Cup where he is frequently accompanied by other ministers –like Kapil Sibal in 2006.
But what the critics dont know is that Priya Ranjan Das Munshi has started a ultra secret training camp for Indian footballers. Since we cannot afford to send them abroad (we have only money to send Priya Ranjan and his family), they have been whisked away to a training facility in Bishtoopur, a sleepy hamlet 133 miles away from Calcutta. The picture to the left is a snap taken secretly at this facility—-the guy in the dhoti is the coach.
Bengali superstar Tapas Paul, having essayed the role of the hero with a foot of gold many many times in Bengali movies knows exactly what is expected of a soccer star. Which is why he has been made captain of the Indian team. In the first picture, he is shown worshipping the God of football, Footballeswari/Footballnath before a game—a wise move since only divine intervention or genetic mutation can make India qualify for the World Cup.
Since the current crop of Indian footballers have traditionally struggled with basic skills like trapping and passing, one of the innovations of the current camp is that fruits plucked from trees are being used in lieu of balls. So hard are these fruits that unless you use the sweet spot of your temple or your feet to hit them, your head will be split open or your feet seriously injured–the threat of grievous bodily harm keeps the players “on their toes”—so as to say. This fruity innovation has been adopted from the nearby colony of monkeys who use this technique to hone their skills. Such has been the rate of progress, that the same simian team that beat the Indians 4–0 a few months ago are currently finding it tough to repeat their success (3–2 in their favour last week).
Innovative training methods are being used where players adopt ambiguously gay positions while heavyweights like Tapas Pal run over them (please see the picture to the left). This has led to the development of upper body muscle and also promoted team-spirit, especially after the lights go out and the chi(m)ps go down.
Since, as mentioned before, tackling has been a persistent problem with the Indian team, players are encouraged to gain possession from a dribbling elephant. Priya Ranjan is currently negotiating with the FIFA to see if the elephant can actually play for the team.
Of course, despite the far-out training methods and the absolute secrecy surrounding “Project World Cup” , Indian fans must understand that Rome was not built in a day. As a result, it very well may be that we are not ready for World Cup 2010. Priya Ranjan has taken that into account.
“We will try hard for 2010. If we canâ€™t succeed, we will try for the next edition (2014),â€ Munshi said.
And for the next edition. And the next. After all elephants do have long memories don’t they?
Till that happens cheer for Brazil. Or Argentina. Or whichever team catches your fancy.
Just remember not to feel ashamed.
Because AIFF and its sinecured officials sure do not.
[These pictures are taken from the Bangla movie “Antaranga” —more specifically the song sequence “Paanch goleri khodder noy, ek golatei kaat”. No animals were harmed during the making of this movie. Except the desi murgis that found salvation in Tapas Pal’s not-inconsiderable belly.
An excellent post on the “death” of Indian soccer here.]