Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Two Sporting Heroes

From a very young age I used to follow various sports like Cricket, Football, Hockey and Tennis. Also because of my reading habits I used to read a lot about these sports in the newspapers, old journals and books from local library. There was always a sporting culture in my home and both my parents love to catch a few games on TV, especially Cricket, time to time.
Being an egoist from my childhood, I always relate myself with some team or other. I always have a favourite team of mine and for most often than not I am one of those extreme, creepy supporters who can do anything for the team they support. That can include anything from waking up at 3 in the morning, offering sweets to God (as bribe or ‘Mannat’ whatever you call it may be), and  after team’s win to indulge in fight with random people in the streets in support of your favourite team.
I passionately support the Indian cricket team for as long as I can remember, may be except a brief period in 2006, but that’s a different story and I can never understand how so many Indian people could not support their own cricket team and constantly abused the team and the players. Yeah there are those bullshits like ‘Patriotism is crap’, ‘This is BCCI’s team and many others but seriously man when you have a cricket team of your country who are 3 times world champion, why the hell would you go and support teams like England and West Indies? And then, someone once told me, “I support Pakistan, I do not like Indian team and I will not support whites who are racist!!” Why not Sri Lanka then I thought, but also realized that the possible reason could be that they are too dark than his liking!
Except the Indian cricket team, the other teams I support passionately are Mohun Bagan Athletic Club, Brazilian National Football Team and Manchester United Football Club. The order is not necessarily based on the level of passion; it’s more to do with a chronological order of me becoming a fan of these 3 football clubs.
My family is a Mohun Bagan family, my parents support Mohun Bagan and it must be sometime around 1989-90, when the famous Bengali weekly ‘Anandamela’ came up with a special issue focusing on Kolkata Football. My father used that one to explain about Mohun Bagan club, the first Indian club to beat the foreigners to win the 1911 IFA Shield. He explained the importance of Mohun Bagan club and their status in Indian football. More than 20 years have passed and the love is still intact despite of a relatively tougher time for last three & a half years.
At the time of 1990 Football World Cup, I was only 6-7 years old but even in that age I was an avid reader and read as many reporting and articles I could about World Cup football and its history. Based on those books and very few available old football clips I found the Brazilian national team to be most attractive but most importantly Brazil has a rich history of their football and I was an instant fan of Brazilian greats like Pele, Garrincha and Zico. And by the time 1994 World Cup came I became as passionate Brazil fan as possible and I consider myself lucky to watch two of Brazil’s 5 World Cup triumph in the 5 world cups I have seen. The next one will be in the country itself and although the squad is not very strong and lacks co-ordination I still hope for a magic in their country where World Cup is returning after 64 years!!
And then there is the Manchester United Football Club, one of the world’s most famous football clubs along with likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan and Bayern Munich. Now call me a ‘Glory hunter’ or whatever you may like, but the fact is that I did not start supporting Man United from first day of my life. No one of us could, these are foreign football clubs and even till mid 90’s it was very difficult to even get news regarding these clubs. It was early days of ESPN/Star Sports in India and except the foreign tours of Indian cricket team what they would show was Baseball and basketball. And for people in Kolkata, football meant the worldwide frenzy which comes once every four years with World Cup football.
I read about Matt Busby and the Munich plane crash of 1958 and how that team had the potential to world-beater and how by fate they become part of one of the biggest sporting tragedies of the century. But most of my knowledge was based on history and frankly in the first half of 90s, I,  as a 10 year old boy did not care much about what was happening in English football
And then EPL started coming to India through ESPN and I followed those matches, watched post match shows, I knew about United, learnt about other teams, Liverpool, the Arch enemy, Arsenal, the other power house, Man City, the noisy neighbours  and then I started hearing two names regularly. Alex Ferguson and David Beckham, both were part of Manchester United football club. David may not be a great player but he was a star and Ferguson was a well respected football coach and a great tactician.  I started liking them, started liking the club and then came 1999.
1999 was arguably the best year for Manchester United in the Ferguson era. Not only the treble but that night in Camp Nou which made 1999 a legendary year in United history and I got more and more attracted to the team which had both great footballing tradition and a very strong current team with Ferguson in the helm.
My passion for United increased gradually. On the other hand,  early 2000 witnessed a  very interesting growth of  Indian cricket team. Dravid and Ganguly were moving towards their legendary status and new youngsters like Yuvraj, Sehwag, Harbhajan and Zaheer coming up. So most of my spare time was dedicated to cricket, Indian team and more specifically on Saurav Ganguly, the stylist southpaw who changed the face of Indian cricket with his unmatched passion and fighting spirit.
Post 2006-07, the passion in cricket went down somewhat. It could be a result of the overkill by ICC and BCCI by arranging meaningless series and tournaments. Also the team was changing.  Lots of new players were coming, Old warhorse like Ganguly got retired in 2008,  Dravid decided to play only test matches, IPL and other private leagues came to make cricket more of a product than a sport. And with all these my dedication for football precisely for United was increasing.
Now pls don’t get me wrong here ILP lovers. I am not saying IPL is bad, or do not follow cricket nowadays (I can challenge you in a cricket quiz any time, ok not everyone… like Abhishek Mukherjee), I watch cricket as much as I can, I was ecstatic with KKR’s win last year but at the same time my focus on football and United grew over the year.
I did lots of study on United players and especially on Sir Alex. I Read about him, got ‘Football- Bloody Hell’, his famous biography … The more I read about him my respect for him grew day by day.  Then interestingly I slowly realized that two of my most respected sporting icons have many things in common.
Yes, Sourav Ganguly and Sir Alex Ferguson may be from two completely different sporting backgrounds but there are a few common threads which connect them together.
Firstly, both Sir Alex and Sourav could not fulfil their potential as players but became great leaders and motivators. Sir Alex with 6 clubs in his 17 year long career and 171 goals could never play for his country and as a player he could only be called modest.
Ganguly on the other hand was much successful as a player with more than 18,000 runs in international cricket is arguably the best left handed batsman India has ever produced and one of the best left handed batsmen in his generation.  But I personally feel that we did not see his best performance and he could have achieved much more specially as a test match batsman, but as we know their leadership skills which are pretty unmatched in style. And obviously the impressive results they could achieve with the limited resources they mostly had.
Secondly, both of them were masters of working with a young team. Ganguly is considered to be the first Indian captain to build a successful team with young upcoming players like Sehwag, Harbhajan, Kaif, Yuvraj, Zaheer and even Mahendra Singh Dhoni in a later stage. No one can ignore the support he provided for some of these players in their initial not-so-successful phases of career. These youngsters could not get the World cup in 2003 but in 2011 when Sourav was long gone, the team that won the World cup had 5 of the above mentioned players as the mainstays in that team.
Even Ferguson did the same during his entire managerial stints and his legendary ‘Class of 92’ included Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Neville brothers who in their late teens at that time became stalwarts for their club and country for the next decade. Even Wayne Rooney and Christiano Ronaldo both were around 17 years old when Ferguson signed them and made them two of the biggest names in world football. Not only nurturing the young talent, but the way he supported them in their bad time, especially Beckham during post infamous red card in 1998 world cup and Ronaldo after the ‘Wink’ incident in world cup 2006 made Ferguson different from other great managers.
I do not like many Shah Rukh Khan Movies but one of them which I consider relatively better is ‘Chak De India’ and there was a dialogue in the movie something like, “Harr team mein ek Gunda rahata hain, aur iss team ka Gunda main hnu”. This dialogue doesn't only refer to the legendary blockbuster ‘Gunda’ by the master Kanthi Shah it is also quite true for both Sourav and Sir Alex.
Both of them are great leaders and the common trait in their leadership style was the fact that at their times as coach or captain they wanted to be the person who should call the shots, who should be on the spotlight. Because of that there were multiple times in their career when they got into tussle with fellow players, coach or other management staffs in the team.
Sourav always had issues with players from other teams and umpires, most famously the ‘Late for Toss’ incident with Steve Waugh. The nadir reached at the time of Greg Chappell being Indian coach, Ganguly was the main person behind Greg’s appointment as India’s coach post John Right but within few months the relationship grew sour and finally ended with Ganguly getting dropped from the team due to his poor form and some non-cricketing reasons.
Ferguson also had his share of issues with players and according to many people he never allowed anyone to become bigger than him in the club. For him the most infamous incident should be the kicking of boot which his David Beckham on face and resulted in David’s exit next season.

And finally the most significant similarity which I found for these two greats of their game is that only very few people during their era could generate so much polarized view as these two can get.
There are people who think Ganguly is ‘God of offside’, ‘The man who brought renaissance to Indian cricket’, ‘The first Indian captain who showed how to win abroad’ and a ‘True fighter’. But there are similar number of people who think he is ‘Slow, unfit with no proper technique, arrogant and has absolutely no contribution to Indian cricket’. His shirt waving in the balcony of Lords brings as much praise as criticism from Indian media. On the other hand part of Australian media who was always behind his back during his career finally accepted how they could only consider him as one of their toughest competitors and how much respect they had for his fighting spirit.
The story is quite similar for Sir Alex. One of the most successful and longest serving coaches in the history of football. Ferguson is hailed as an awesome tactician, great motivator and someone who has changed the face of England football and made Manchester United a super power and well known brand in the world, whereas his many adversaries would call him arrogant, hard to work with and even some would accuse him for controlling and pressurising the referees and FA.
At the end of the day, these two are the biggest names of their own fields and two of my most respected sporting heroes. No discussion of Indian cricket or Club football can be completed without at least once mentioning Sourav’s or Sir Alex’s name.
10th November 2008 was a sad day for me, the day I saw Saurav Ganguly playing for the last time in Indian jersey, bidding farewell after a successful 2-0 win over his fiercest rivals, the Australians. The game is still there and definitely the game is bigger than its players but somewhere in small corner of my heart the memories of Sourav Ganguly are preserved carefully & nurtured with affection & respect only for my recollection. Now I watch the game with more brain and less heart.
Sir Alex will have his last game on 19th of this month and yes he is also leaving with the success of the 20th league triumph (his 13th league title and 38th trophy overall for United) and I will be sad once again but the memories will be there. The memories of his tactical brilliance, of his passion and the memories of the aura he has built in his 27 years in Manchester United.
Thanks both of you for the memories and all the best for the future.

1 comment:

  1. Both Sir Alex and Saurav were fierce competitors and hated to lose. Serial winners are most of the times sour losers.