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For Indian football’s sake, AIFF must disclose future plan for clubs, says Bhaichung Bhutia

Jaydeep Basu

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Bhaichung Bhutia
Former captian Bhaichung Bhutia is concerned about the state Indian football finds itself in.

New Delhi: Bhaichung Bhutia donned national colours for 17 years, 12 of them as captain. He hung up his boots in 2011, but did not stay away from the game.

He managed a professional club in Sikkim and remained the chairman of All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) technical committee. He heads a successful football school that has branches all over India.

“At least two footballers in the current national team, Ashique Kuruniyan and Aniruddh Thapa, were first spotted by our school,” he said with a tinge of pride in his voice.

Yet the soccer icon looked unsure when Sports Lounge asked him when the I-League could begin this season? “Will at all it be played this season,” Bhaichung asked back smilingly.

The smile on his face, however, vanished almost immediately. For him, it is not a subject to laugh about. Looking through the large window of the fashionable cafeteria in the Capital’s upscale Khan Market, Bhaichung spoke almost absent-mindedly.

“I hear they may start I-League in November. The announcement may come any time. But what Indian football urgently needs is a structure. That is missing for now.

“I felt assured when the AIFF in June said there would be a roadmap down the line for three years. But so far nothing has come out. Whether there will be a kind of merger between the ISL and I-League or two separate divisions, everything has to be laid out on the table. All stakeholders should be called and made a part of it.

“The I-League clubs should also know what is there in the offing. They would start preparing according to it. Even if there are divisions, there has to be promotion and relegation.

“But most importantly, there has to be an announced structure. Without it, you can’t operate,” the scorer of 42 international goals says emphatically.

There is one thing Bhaichung has no doubt about. The country’s top league, be it ISL or I-League, can’t flourish without the two Kolkata clubs.

“Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have to be there. The popularity, the support base, the emotion involved with these two clubs can’t be ignored. It has to be encashed. No league in India can reach dizzy heights without them.”

Bhaichung has a note of warning for the two clubs too. “If they have to play a truly professional league, then they also must change the style of functioning. The days are over when a football club can be run like a grocery shop.

“In I-League, year after year, the small-budgeted teams like Aizawl, Minerva, Chennai are winning the title. And these two clubs, despite spending money and having the support base and so-called tradition, are lagging behind. It clearly proves there is something seriously wrong in running those clubs.

Bhaichung Bhutia

Bhaichung Bhutia (from left) forged successful goal-scoring partnerships with Sunil Chhetri (centre) and IM Vijayan.

“It doesn’t happen anywhere. The Leicester City may have won the league once but it is not going to be repeated again and again. The EPL will continue to be dominated by Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea etc.

“It doesn’t mean the smaller clubs have no role to play in football. They will continue to work honestly and the supply line of footballers will remain intact,” said the striker, who spent three seasons in England for the now-expelled Bury FC.

Surprisingly, Bhaichung is not in favour of reducing the five-foreigner rule in Indian football. At least not for the moment. “There has to be something on the plate for the spectators. At the same time, let the local players face the competition,” he said.

Bhaichung has the moral right to say so. In the inaugural NFL in 1996-97, the clubs were allowed to field five foreigners. Yet Bhaichung emerged the top scorer with champions JCT.

There is one thing that bothers him. Who will take the responsibility of scoring for India once Sunil Chhetri calls it a day? “Once we hunted in pairs. First, it was me and IM (Vijayan). Then me and Sunil. Who is the next one?

“Well I am happy the way Ashique Kuruniyan and Abdul Sahal are shaping up. They are hugely talented.” Bhaichung feels assured the Indian football is in safe hands.

Find more football stories at Jaydeep Basu.

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La Liga’s pulling power not diminished by Neymar miss, says league’s India MD

Sayan Mukherjee

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Neymar6
Neymar's (forefront) protracted negotiations for a return to Barcelona created a lot of buzz in the transfer season. Photos: Twitter

New Delhi: Brand La Liga is too big an entity to be affected by Barcelona’s inability to sign Neymar, believes the league’s managing director for India Jose Antonio Cachaza.

Neymar’s transfer saga involving his former club Barca and fierce foes Real Madrid was the June-July transfer window’s talking point. Protracted negotiations happened over phases between the Brazilian star’s present employers Paris Saint Germain (PSG), Barca and Real.

Re-signing Neymar would have been viewed as a massive statement of intent by not only Barca but also by La Liga – which thrives on the Real-Barca rivalry – particularly after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Madrid to Italy’s Juventus in 2018.

Ronaldo and Neymar’s move away from Spain was seen as a body blow to La Liga’s viewership pull in the Asian market. The PSG’s star return would have increased chances of TV saleability in the Indian subcontinent, where the league can be viewed live only on Facebook this season.

But Cachaza said La Liga can’t possibly boast of all the big names at the same time and is content with whatever they have.

Neymar barca

MSN – Luis Suarez (from left), Neymar and Lionel Messi forged a successful goalscoring partnership for Barcelona.

“I don’t think that affects the interests of La Liga at all. Of course we want to have all the big stars with us. It would be great if Barcelona can sign Neymar. But we understand that we cannot have all the top players with us,” Cachaza told Sports Lounge in an exclusive chat.

The potential deal also managed to engage Lionel Messi, Barca’s talisman at first speaking about the deal’s necessity and then questioned his club efforts once negotiations fell through as time ran out. Cachaza said Messi remains the league’s face and it remains well placed to attract marquee names in the future.

“We have some top names with us, including the number 1 (Lionel Messi). So we have a lot to offer to fans in terms of football stars. We are sure it will remain that way in the future.”

Landing star names help European football leagues generate interest and bag lucrative TV deals in foreign shores. CR7’s move to Turin doubled Serie A viewership in India, while halving El Clasico’s impressions from 4 million to 2 million, as per BARC India television audience statistics. Cachaza admitted recreating the Messi vs Ronaldo rivalry would be tough for the league.

“Ronaldo leaving was a big loss. Our audience viewership was also affected. But we are happy that Ronaldo gave his best years to La Liga with Real Madrid. He chose to go to Italy to end his playing years there. That is good for him.

“It would be hard to replicate the rivalry of Ronaldo and Messi with any other player. Though La Liga would have benefitted had the rivalry remained in Spain. So it’s time to let go of it.”

Ronaldo Messi

Lionel Messi’s (left) on-field rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo has been La Liga’s biggest selling card in recent years.

Last year, La Liga’s official broadcaster showed select matches live. Reportedly, they weren’t keen on extending the association this season owing to commercial unviability.

Failing to find a broadcaster though doesn’t perturb Cachaza. Playing down prospect of the league’s reduction in viewership, he said they are focused on getting a headstart on live streaming of matches in India, where internet penetration is increasing steadily.

“We understand that it is a new approach to watch football, a sort of experiment. We know audience watch sports more through TV. But if some people start to watch it on a digital platform, hopefully more will follow. We are working with Facebook live towards that.

“Now viewing is more accessible, all they need is a mobile phone. It may take some time for results to show but we have taken a step in the right direction,” he added.

Real vs Barca has been La Liga’s trumpcard in its efforts to expand its push overseas. Cachaza insisted that it’s not only about the ‘Big Two’ but other clubs also remain part of the focal point.

“We are proud to have probably the two best clubs in the world. We are proud to have Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla. Apart from Real and Barca we have a lot to offer.”

jose Cachaza

Facebook India’s director and head of partnerships Manish Chopra (left) and La Liga India’s MD Jose-Antonio Cachaza at an event in New Delhi.

Competition from the English Premier League (EPL) in India is intense. La Liga is keen for its brand to grow at a healthy rate, aware that there is a considerable gap between the two leagues in Indian TV audience.

“EPL started promoting their competition in Asia 20-25 years ago. We have only begun promoting La Liga 5-6 years ago. So we still have a long way to go. We are happy to be among the top two most viewed leagues in India.”

Facilitating arrangement of pre-season friendlies for Spanish clubs in India could be a way of gaining an extra yard over the EPL, but Cachaza said several factors need to match for that to happen. Girona FC were involved in a pre-season tournament, also involving Kerala Blasters and A-League side Melbourne City FC, in July 2018 at Kochi.

“We would be happy to facilitate La Liga clubs coming for pre-season matches in India. But that isn’t easy. The pre-season window is very short and it collides with the monsoon in India. Apart from our interest we also need to find a local promoter. That is how the system works,” Cachaza said.

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Inexperienced South Africa has potential to improve: Amol Muzumdar

Ashish Mani Tiwari

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New Delhi: South Africa’s new interim batting coach Amol Muzumdar believes the team lacks maturity but can improve with proper guidance.

The former Mumbai batsman was appointed Proteas’ interim batting coach for the three-match Test series against India.current sports news

South African batsmen have struggled to score in their recent outings with the team failing to qualify for the ODI World Cup semifinals.

Asked about his observations regarding the deficiencies of the team, Muzumdar told Sports Lounge, “Yes inexperience is evident in South Africa team, but there is a scope for improvement.”current sports news

“Once, I will join the team, I will be able to analyse what exactly is the problem. Also, I am very excited about this new chapter of my coaching career”, he added.

Muzumdar will join the South African team on September 18 at Mohali. The three match-Test series will be beginning at Visakhapatnam (October 2-6) followed by matches in Pune (October 10-14) and Ranchi (October 19-23). South Africa was defeated in a four Test match series 0-3 by India in 2015.

Before the Test series, India and South Africa will engage in a three- match T20 series.

Muzumdar made his first class debut for Mumbai (Bombay) in 1994 against Haryana and made total 11,167 runs in first class cricket. He is the second-highest run-getter in the history of the Ranji Trophy.

Muzumdar holds wide coaching experience, including batting coach of Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League (IPL), India’s Under 19 and Under 23 sides at the National Cricket Academy. He has been the batting coach of the Netherlands In December 2013.

Commenting on the Muzumdar’s appointment, Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) acting director Corrie Van Zyl said, “He brings an intimate knowledge of Indian playing conditions and the challenges our batsmen are likely to face.

“He also assisted us at the spin bowling camp we held recently in India and thus has already built up a good working relationship with Aiden Markram, Temba Bavuma and Zubayr Hamza.”

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My perseverance has paid off: Para-Badminton world champion Manasi Joshi

Sayan Mukherjee

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Manasi Joshi
Para-badminton world champion Manasi Joshi's journey is a story of grit, determination and perseverance. Pics: Google and Twitter

New Delhi: Did PV Sindhu unknowingly steal your thunder?sports news headlines

“No, I don’t think so,” Para-Badminton World Championships winner Manasi Joshi’s reaction was prompt, sharp and insistent on not being at the receiving end of an apparent oversight despite the prevailing sentiment, which was highlighted by Kiran Bedi’s tweet.sports news headlines

“In the high of PV Sindhu getting Gold in World Championship, we forgot to wish Manasi Joshi, who won gold in World Para Badminton Championship. Here is it wishing her,” the Puducherry governor wrote on social media.

But Manasi persisted at not feeling a tad remorseful at being apparently overshadowed after her triumph collided with Sindhu’s World Championships victory. Neither does she believe that she would have received more applause for her achievement had not her win coincided with Sindhu’s on August 25, a red-letter day for Indian badminton.

“It’s all about how media portrays it. I hope our achievements will be given equal share of importance. If it’s overshadowed it’s only for the media, because we put in equal amount of effort and even train at the same academy,” the 30-year-old told Sports Lounge in an exclusive chat.

Considering what she has went through in her life these are indeed the least of her worries. She was only six and able-bodied when she got hooked to the racquet and shuttlecock. Full of ambition and promise, her dreams of “doing a Sindhu” were shattered in December, 2011, when she lost her left leg in a road accident.

Fate might have made her physically impaired but could hardly dent her resolve, her focus shifting towards para-badminton in 2014, collecting a mixed doubles silver medal at the 2015 Para-Badminton World Championship, followed by a bronze at the 2018 Asian Para Games.

After the World Championships gold, her journey might seem akin to a fairytale but not many can comprehend how difficult it is for an athlete to get accustomed to the use of prosthetics after beginning career as an able-bodied sportsperson.

Walking with prosthetics is in itself quite a task, Manasi was not only bold enough to adjust to the psychological demands of her forced shift but also mastered the physical alterations that came with her misfortune.

“As a para-athlete we have to do things differently. Preparation is quite different. We have to look after many things on our own. Right from prosthetics – like I have to make sure that after waking up I fix my prosthetics properly,” she explained.

“Able-bodied athletes don’t have to think about all those things. I have to make sure how much time I have to fit my prosthetics before training. We have to think about so many things just to come out of home and play.

“I am sure an able bodied player or person don’t have to think so much. But everybody has their own method of advantages and disadvantages, I have my own. It’s about facing them and moving on.”

Migrating from Ahmedabad to Hyderabad to enroll at Pullela Gopichand’s academy in 2018 was immensely beneficial. Her family, including her parents and two siblings, were beside her all through, as was “Gopi sir”, coaches Rajendra Kumar, Hary Muliono and fitness trainer Raju.

“My trainers and coaches had to adapt to my current situation and ensured that I underwent whatever was needed for me. It couldn’t have been possible without the support of the people who has worked hard. So I would like to thank all of them.”

One gold, however, doesn’t mask the various problems she has faced throughout her journey, primary among them being funding for para-sports and the high cost of prosthetics.

“The prosthetics for walking, which lasts around 5-6 years, has a market price of around Rs 22 lakh. The playing prosthetics cost about 5-6 lakh. As para athlete I have to spend a lot of amount just to start walking,” Manasi pointed out.

“My sponsors, Mallcom and Welspun, have been very helpful, so have my employers Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL).”

While a lot could obviously be done for para-sports’ upliftment, including support from national sports federations (NSF), India’s para-shuttlers didn’t need much to bag 12 medals at the Worlds in Basel. As reward they were handed a sum of Rs 1.82 lakh once they landed in the country.

Manasi acknowledged the sports ministry’s prompt response and amendment of rules to ensure that medal winners get their cash awards on the day of their return to the country after an international event and not at an annual ceremony.

“We got the reward as soon as we landed in India. We didn’t have to chase for the money. This change in attitude is refreshing. I congratulate the government and SAI for their dynamism.”

Not getting a shot at an Olympics gold in women’s singles at Tokyo 2020 (the SL3 singles category isn’t included in Para-badminton at the Games) doesn’t deflate her spirits, rather she has her eyes on qualifying and winning a medal in the mixed doubles section.

She hopes the SL3 category is included in the Olympics “sooner rather than later” but for now she wishes her World Championships gold would bring attention and attitudinal shift for investment in para-sports.

“I am very satisfied with my win. I worked hard for it. I made sure I kept at it,” she said, determined to stretch the limits of her achievement even further.

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