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Class of the Catalans

Class of the Catalans
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First Published: Wed, Jun 01 2011. 10 37 PM IST

Titans: The Barcelona team after winning the Champions League final on Saturday. AP
Titans: The Barcelona team after winning the Champions League final on Saturday. AP
Updated: Wed, Jun 01 2011. 10 37 PM IST
Fifty-eight years ago, the myth of England’s pre-eminence over the game they had invented was rudely shattered when its national team was unexpectedly routed 3-6 by Hungary at the Wembley Stadium before a 100,000-strong partisan rabble.
“It was the mother and father of a good hiding… We were out-speeded, out-smarted and out-stayed…” wrote Clifford Webb in the Daily Herald after the traumatic defeat.
Titans: The Barcelona team after winning the Champions League final on Saturday. AP
FC Barcelona may not have recorded a tennis score in the UEFA Champions League final at the same venue on Saturday, but the mesmeric “masterclass” they taught England’s champion club Manchester United on their home turf elicited a similar response from United’s redoubtable boss, Sir Alex Ferguson: “In my time as manager, it is the best team we have faced. No one has given us a hiding like that.”
Even England’s most celebrated current player, Wayne Rooney, could not help applauding as the captivating Catalans walked off the pitch after a 3-1 win. The overwhelming win established one thing: As of now, Barca’s reign in Spain and elsewhere will continue.
Manchester United’s humiliation is perhaps an indicator that the era of dominance of English clubs in Europe, fuelled by big money and talented foreigners, is nearing an end. This is the third year in succession that only one English club has figured in the semi-finals of the Champions League, compared with three in the two seasons prior to that. The latter feat was achieved, incidentally, with non-English managers at the helm of the “Big Four” Premiership clubs.
On the other hand, Barca’s rise to the summit has been achieved mainly by home-grown players—eight of their team players, including Lionel Messi, come from their fabled cantera at La Masia, the best finishing school in football. Barcelona’s Champions League wins in 2009 and 2011, interspersed with Spain’s 2008 Euro and 2010 World Cup wins, reiterate that the Iberian nation is setting the standards in today’s football.
Coach Josep “Pep” Guardiola too is a local product. As a player, Guardiola was a member of legendary Dutchman Johan Cruyff’s dream team, which won Barca’s first European Cup in 1992, and was also mentored by Dutchman Rinus Michels, the godfather of Total Football. Both Michels and Cruyff coached at Barcelona and laid the stylistic foundations, which the current manager has honed to perfection.
The relative lack of success of English football clubs in European tournaments points to the declining relevance of the organized English system in modern football. On the other hand, Barcelona’s supremacy shows that stylish football can also be successful, and well-managed home-grown talent can form a good team.
It’s an interesting coincidence that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) too has opted for local talent, inducting Armando Colaco as interim national coach and successor to Bob Houghton. The Cape Town-based Englishman’s stewardship of the “blue tigers” ended with the heavy defeats suffered in the AFC Asian Cup 2011 in Qatar and his rudimentary long-ball tactics evoked much derision at home.
At the helm: Armando Colaco, who coached Goa’s Dempo football club (playing in blue), is India’s interim coach. Hindustan Times
Coincidentally, again, India’s new national coach says he shares Barca’s philosophy of “keeping the ball”. Describing Barcelona’s win as “mesmeric”, Colaco says: “I am honoured that a small person like me from Goa and a big club from the other side of the world can think along similar lines—therein lies the beauty of football.”
Colaco is looking ahead to 15 June, when the national players will reassemble after a well-deserved rest. His immediate priority will be to get the lads to “combine, develop and gel well with each other”.
The Curtorim native is the best person in India to stamp the passing game and possessional play which won Dempo four I-League titles in six years. On Monday, Colaco’s Dempo thrashed Air India by a record 14-0 score in their penultimate round I-League clash. Dempo’s performances in the AFC Champions League are another factor in his favour. Not that Colaco simply copies the latest fads. He inherited the passing style from his mentor Joseph Ratnam, who coached Dempo in the 1970s, during his playing days. Colaco’s approach is, incidentally, quite different from the defensive-oriented, counter-attacking style that reigns today, Real Madrid coach José Mourinho being one of its most successful proponents.
“Armando is a good coach and I am all for appointing Indians for the national job as Indian coaches are no less than foreigners. Given the language barrier, the abilities of the players and the state of the game in the country, our guys are the better option,” says former Mahindra United and Maharashtra coach Harish Rao. He suggests that hiring a foreign technical director would help, but the person would have to work in tandem with the Indian support staff and players—or it would be self-defeating.
India have a chequered record under foreign coaches, having first inducted one way back in 1962 (England’s Harry Wright). Though the likes of Ciric Milovan (from then Yugoslavia) and Joseph Gelei (Hungary) left a mark in their time, foreign inductees have faltered after initial successes and have had to pack their bags and leave. England’s Stephen Constantine and Houghton are the most recent examples. It did not help their cause that aggrieved Indian coaches such as Syed Naeemuddin publicly said they did not enjoy the same indulgence and facilities as their foreign counterparts.
Incidentally, in the wake of Houghton’s removal, a Europe-based coach who has applied for the national job reasoned that “the federation must not appoint an English coach as they are not forward thinking and do not enjoy much success in international football anyway”.
India’s most successful coach has been the late, revered Syed Abdul Rahim, who guided the team to quite a few successes from 1950-62, including a gold medal at the 1962 Asian Games—a performance that nobody else, Indian or foreign, has since managed.
Colaco can look to him for inspiration as he gears for the World Cup qualifier against UAE on 23 July, and the friendlies preceding it. But it would be an injustice if he is not given a decent spell to prove himself.
Double Olympian and former India goalkeeper S.S. Narayan says: “I would neither dub Houghton’s tenure a success or failure—and it is no big deal winning the Nehru Cup as the competition was not top class. What did we do in the Asian Cup?”
The former Tata Sports Club custodian is, however, impressed with what Colaco achieved with Dempo. “Their passing, movement, ball possession and consistency have been great. If he can achieve that with a club then he surely deserves a chance to move up to the next level.”
Indian football is hardly comparable to international standards at the moment. But cash- strapped AIFF is hungry for international success, so is the whole nation, and if Colaco can marry style with success and make India play stylish and successful football, it would be well worth it.
Mario Rodrigues is a senior sports journalist based in Mumbai.
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First Published: Wed, Jun 01 2011. 10 37 PM IST