Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Well, that's another fine Messi you've gotten me into, Leo!

Having never been a football fan, I'm a little surprised the World Cup hasn't bored me to tears. Don't get me wrong. I'm still no fan, and, by the looks of it, never will be. There's something just so incongruous about muscle-bound men doing an impersonation of 11-year-old Vineetha - when, in Maths class, I used the compass on her from the bench behind: "Ma'am, ma'am, he poked me in the back. Send him out, the beast!"

Now, being a fan of a sport that has the likes of Stuart Broad, Sreesanth and Shane Watson playing it, I'm in no position to claim that, footballers aside, sportsmen are paragons of virtue. But the odd overzealous challenge, or handling the ball, is one thing; diving to get someone from the other team sent off, is another. Is there anything more distasteful than players converging on a referee, demanding that an opponent be sent off?

And I've lost count of the number of times I've seen this in the last few days; you can't get 5 minutes of a game without someone flat on the ground, clutching various body parts, teammates making a collective exhibition of breast-beating worthy of a Prem Nazir film. I still don't get why these blokes are not hauled up in front of a referee after the match is over, and sent packing on the next flight home. They're making their sport virtually unwatchable. The beautiful game, indeed!

What I'm driving at is, under normal circumstances, I'd sooner describe an hour spent scraping chewing gum off the underside of my boots, than write about football. But there are still times when football grabs me by the throat, makes me look up from my book. Before going into that, though, let me admit to my biases first. Long ago, when such things were still around, my dad had this videotape named... well, something or the other. It was a 90-minute summary of the World Cups between 1958 and 1986. Only two of the tournaments still stick in my memory. One had a group of orange-clad men doing something remarkable, something startlingly different from anything that preceded them.

The second tourney of my memories... now, that made even the first pale in comparison. A short, stocky chap* working magic with the ball at his feet, seemingly single-handedly inspiring his team to victory - and a boy's ever-lasting allegiance was won. From then on, if he happened to catch a striped sky-blue shirt on a football pitch, that is the corner of the field that held his heart. Not that it happened often; once in four years is all.

You may find it curious, therefore, that in-spite of all the hype anointing Lionel Messi as the next Maradona, I never paid much attention to it. Come to think of it, if you follow sports much, you probably wouldn't find it all that curious. India's just starting to buckle down, staring grimly at the prospect of the next Tendulkar being discovered every other day, up until the year 2201. It had to be something exceptional that would pique my interest enough to watch a ghastly football match, and this article certainly was that. In the match (some club game) I finally did watch, though, for all the entertainment value he added, Messi might as well have not played at all; football was back in the ignore list.

But then, the World Cup started, Africa was on every tongue, sky blue was back on TV, and I settled down,  book in hand (just in case), to watch the Albicelestes have another go at the title. Admittedly, I can't judge for myself if Messi is the next Maradona. After all, all I've seen of Maradona is about 10 minutes of a highlights package. Not that I care. To watch the pint-sized Messi being surrounded by three, four defenders, and still dribble his way through what looked like a brick wall just a few seconds earlier, has me now kicking myself for ignoring all those recommendations over the last couple of years.

Sure, I have enough of a bone to pick with football in general to justify not watching it for any reason whatsoever. Even the fact that he seems to be a fair sportsman, not given to falling over, bellowing like a wounded buffalo, on a feather passing within 5 metres of him can be explained away cynically, like a friend of mine did: "He's merely doing what's best for him. He does better by remaining on his feet, than being face down on the grass."

But, if nothing else, as a sci-fi fan, how can I not watch in awe, not be spellbound, by the little Argentinian bending time and space to his will? Just where do those sudden bursts of speed, and changes in direction come from? This is not The Hulk battering his opponents into submission; this is The Flea** weaving and winding his way through, in intricate patterns effortlessly planned out in a fraction of a second. How many days would it take a Brian de Palma to come up with an equivalent reel on film?

So, for the rest of the tournament, you'll find me swallowing my pride and asking football-fanatic friends for tips and information, after years of bagging on them. I shall also be willing the Argentinians on, with rather more than my usual detached interest. And even after that, whatever the result, long after Africa is bid goodbye to, I'll do my best to catch Leo Messi in action, whenever I can.

*As if to give me even more reasons to support Argentina, CWB opines that Tendulkar, for his "ability to score at will and carry a team" is like a non-mental Diego Maradona. With such close ties between the Argentinian coach and my favourite sportsman, how can I not support El Diego's wards?

**"Emergency meeting of illiterate millionaires" is pretty much my favourite summing up of the on-going festivities in South Africa: I shouldn't expect too much by way of imagination from the footballing fraternity. But still, the most talked-about player of his generation; someone already compared to legends of the sport; someone who can make even people like me, who have no particular love for the game, write posts professing wide-eyed admiration; and the best you can come up with for him is The Flea? Really?

P.S. - His name being just perfect for punning ("messimerising performance" is getting really old, though), phrases like "don't Messi with Tevez" abound everywhere I turn to. In the match against Greece, with the Greeks needing to win to go through, I came up with one of my own: "The Greek shall inherit the Earth; but not if the Messi-ah has a say in the matter." A really clever mix of World Cup commentary, religious allegory, and Monty Python references - even if I do say so myself. Now, if only I could find a way to work it i... ah! Looks like I just managed it. Thankyouverymuch. Enjoy the quarter-finals.

P.P.S. - A quick Google search to check if my post title is original, confirmed what I've always suspected: there's nothing original about me, never has been, and most likely never will be. Well, at least, the article in question points out that even someone like Messi is far from perfect.


missjane said...

I'm sorry, I have to draw the line here. I will add books to my reading list, and movies to my 'should really watch this one day list,' but I just can't fit in another sport, however gloriously described. It's rather unfair, actually, writing about sport like this and dragging in sf, CWB and Inky.

And watch what you say about Watson. He's doing very well fitness-wise - let's not go into results at the moment - and we'd like him to continue that way.

I have just been inspired to write more of my cricket post, though, which I think is a sign of how even less original I am. Yay.

Rohan said...

You don't have to follow the sport, you know. Get someone to tell you when Messi's playing, and sit back and admire the artistry. The good thing about football is that since it, unlike cricket, caters to the lowest possible IQ level, you don't really have to know much about it to watch it.

Erm, Watson. He may be a skilled cricketer, but is there another cricketer alive who epitomises "prick" the way he does? (Well, except the other two on the list.) :D