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A Promise To Bring Football To India

A Promise To Bring Football To India

Maradona in Kolkata

In this warm tribute to Diego Maradona, Soumyadeep tells us about the football icon’s deep connection with Indian football lovers and his remarkable impact upon Indian football

“New year, new beginnings” is how we have stepped into 2021. With a new vigor and renewed optimism, we hope to put behind a year to forget. The year gone by has not given us much to be happy about. It seems like yesterday when we were all bustling in our university campus, complaining about lack of holidays. Yet in the midst of it all, the entire year has passed. While we were all confined within the premises of our homes, a lot happened in the outside world.

We have lost prominent figures, people we love and look up to, along the way. Stalwarts like Rishi Kapoor, Irrfan Khan and Soumitra Chatterjee have all left us to grieve and remember the year 2020 for all the wrong reasons. We have lost people in every field of life and this year has probably taught us that rich or poor, big or small, we are all at the mercy of mother nature.

The football community and the world at large, was sent to a similar frenzy with the news of Diego Maradona passing away on the 25th of November. Diego Armando Maradona, passed away due to a cardiac arrest at the age of 60 has left behind a generation that mourned his death. Tributes came in not only from the footballing world, but everywhere. Such was his aura, that people not only from his native Argentina, but throughout the world and as far as in India, mourned his demise.

He was widely regarded as the best player to ever play the game, alongside Brazilian great Pele. The Argentine football genius is known for winning the FIFA World Cup in 1986, and in some fashion. The in/famous “Hand of God” goal against England still remains an iconic moment in football history though many do not know about his second goal of that night. The move which was termed the “Goal of the century”, came just four minutes later in that same match. The magical run and finish as Maradona picked the ball from his own half, went past two, three, four English players and then rounded off the keeper to slot into an empty net.

On the field, Maradona was a football genius. However, off it, he had a series of mishaps that later became the reason behind the end of his playing career. He was twice slapped with a 15 month ban after testing positive for drug use. His off the field exploits had adverse effects on his body as his lifestyle caught up to him. He became obese and had various run-ins with the operation theatre. He later publicly confronted his altercations with drugs and even rectified them as he went on to have a stint in management as well. He managed Argentina between 2008 and 2010. More recently, he was famously pictured smoking a Cigar from the stands at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Maradona had an Indian connection as well. He twice came to Kolkata, the hub of football in India, first in 2008 and then again in 2017. He also came to Kerala in 2012 where he even celebrated his 52nd birthday in advance.

In his first visit to Kolkata, Maradona inaugurated the Indian Football School in Maheshtala. He even played a match at the fields of Mohun Bagan Football Club with the club juniors.

Maradona with Sourav Ganguly
Maradona with Sourav Ganguly

The next time he came to the city, the Argentine unveiled a 12 foot bronze statue of himself holding the World Cup in Kolkata. He also played a friendly match with Sourav Ganguly, former Indian cricket captain. His promise to ‘bring football’ to India has not died with him.

This season of the Indian Super League has seen the entrance of two of the oldest I-League teams, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal as part of future plans of merger of the two leagues. There are plans to include more teams from the I-League by 2023-24 season and a relegation system as well.

Atletico de Kolkata, the three times ISL winners also merged with Mohun Bagan FC to facilitate its entry into the ISL. Retaining the primary colours of green and maroon to uphold the brand of the century old football club. The rivalry they share with SC East Bengal is also well known for its aggressive nature and it will be great to see it in a new light.

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Elsewhere, Northeast United FC is performing admirably under new coach Gerard Nus. On the back of an underwhelming season, this is a bright start and things look good for the club.

Football in India has definitely grown over the years and it is now at a point that it should rise in popularity, infrastructure, level of play and many other aspects. This growing love for football has deep connection with the figure of Diego Maradona. His influence has been there in turning a country of majority cricket fans into football lovers. His promise to bring football to India has not faded. He still has a cult following in the country and his death left behind many a sad soul.

The state of football in eastern India and the country at large is in a much better place than it was in the past. Some of the grit, the passion that these players and clubs as a whole put on show are reminiscent of the great Maradona and this is perhaps the biggest tribute that Indian football can pay to ‘El Diego’.

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