The Ballon d’or question

January 17th, 2013

Lionel Andres Messi wrote yet another page in footballing history on January 7 as he won an unprecedented fourth-consecutive Ballon d’Or award at a gala ceremony in Zurich. The polka-dotted Messi humbly accepted the prestigious award, thanking a long list of well-wishers who voted for him. The diminutive Argentinean — via a Catalan Tv channel — later thanked Barcelona Coach Tito Vilanova and teammate Eric Abidal (both of them had taken ill). He mentioned how their absence had taken away a part of Barcelona and it was encouraging to see that both of them were on the road to recovery.

With 41.6% of the votes, Barcelona’s crown jewel was the clear winner. He pipped his Real Madrid archrival Cristiano Ronaldo (23.68%) and teammate Andres Iniesta (10.91%) to the award.

But from the viewpoint of an ardent soccer follower it would be fair and just to say that perhaps Messi shouldn’t have been awarded the award this time out. It is true that in the past year, Messi has broken several records. In winning the Ballon d’Or for the fourth time he broke Michel Platini’s record itself. He also broke Gerd Muller’s long-standing world record for the most goals scored in a calendar year, which also saw him surpass the legendary Pele. He ended 2012 at an astonishing 91 goals. Despite his extraordinary goal-scoring prowess, it is logical to add that Messi did not have the league or cup success which would have complimented his marvellous feats and maybe made him a worthy winner. Barcelona, with Messi, failed to defend their La Liga crown and could not retain the coveted UEFA Champions League. Real Madrid toppled them from the helm at the La Liga, and one of the main catalysts behind Madrid’s record-breaking performance last season was Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portugal skipper was in blistering form last season. He amassed an astounding 60 goals in 55 appearances in all competitions. 46 of them came in the league itself. In doing so, he was also awarded the Trofeo Alfredo Stefano — the best La Liga player of the season. Ronaldo’s goal-scoring exploits helped Madrid record 100 points in one season; 121 goals scored and a massive goal difference of +89.

Barcelona did keep the pressure on Madrid last season, but Messi — the heart of the team — failed to titivate his teams vibrant play and Tiki-taka style of play. Ronaldo on the other hand inspired Real to victories, putting in match-winning performances.

But awarding Messi his 4th Ballon d’Or already — when he has a whole glittering career ahead of me — looked more like a formality.

And one should spare a thought for Andres Iniesta. The Spanish playmaker has been virtually overshadowed by his Argentinean teammate at Barcelona. But it was Iniesta’s irreplaceable midfield- combination with Xavi that provided Messi ample opportunities to put the ball in the back of the net. They have literally been the brains behind Messi’s performances most of the time.

If it was upon me to pick a worthy winner for the shining Ballon d’Or, based on their performances in the past year, clubbed along with their respective team honours, it would undoubtedly be Ronaldo. The Portuguese hotshot has bought a new dimension to Real’s attack ever since his world-record transfer from Manchester United four years ago.

And if not Ronaldo, then Iniesta surely would have topped the lot. Messi…? Probably not this year…

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What beckons for Beckham

December 3rd, 2012

So it could have not ended in any better possible way for David Beckham. In his last appearance for the Los Angeles Galaxy, the iconic midfielder lifted his second Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup in as many years after a 3-1 comeback win over the Houston Dynamos in the final.

Despite having a year left on his contract, Beckham had announced that the MLS Cup final would be his last match in the MLS, and his last for the LA Galaxy. In five rollercoaster years in the United States, England’s most-capped outfield player has won every major accolade the MLS had to offer. And surprisingly enough, he has maintained his phenomenal record of winning the league in his last season for his previous clubs. He won the Premier League in his last season for Manchester United in 2003, following which he departed for Real Madrid.

In Madrid, he won the La Liga with Real in 2007, in his last season, clinching the title from arch rivals FC Barcelona in the last match of the season. That was Madrid’s first La Liga triumph since his arrival.

He arrived at the LA Galaxy amongst much fanfare and albeit his time in the MLS hasn’t been exactly perfect, there have been moments that only Beckham could produce. In a match against the Kansas City Wizards, Beckham rolled back the years, scoring from 70-yards out reminding everyone of his famous goal in Manchester United colours in 1996 when he scored from halfway against Wimbledon, catching goalkeeper Neil Sullivan off his line. Apart from the 70-yard screamer against the Wizards, Beckham has bended-in many of his trademark free kicks.

His final victory with the LA Galaxy is nothing short of a Hollywood spectacle. But now the real question arises. Where does David Beckham go now? He has already quashed rumours of his retirement, insisting that there is still a considerable amount of time left before he hangs up his boots. He has hinted towards having one final shot at the biggest European gong of all time – the Champions League.

He hasn’t made any attempts to hide his intentions known that he is game for any team that is willing and capable of handing him some valuable Champions League action. Clubs like the free-spending Paris Saint-Germain, Premier League minnows Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United have all expressed their interest in acquiring his services. And the latest name to be thrown into the fray is French Club AS Monaco, with the clubs chief executive saying that they would be “foolish” if they did not explore such a possibility.

At 37, there are doubts over whether Beckham will have enough to offer for whichever team he opts to join. He is clearly devoid of the dazzling pace he possessed whilst at United, something which made him rule the wings donning the coveted #7 jersey. But he is still one of the best dead-ball specialists in the game today. And on his day, he is simply unplayable. His vision, range of passing, crossing and set-piece deliveries are immaculate. And let us admit it; no one can bend it like Beckham.

Come New Year, wherever Beckham opts to go, it will be a sight to savour. David Robert Joseph Beckham, in a new team, a new league and tormenting the opposition’s defences. And this would very well be his last hurrah, before one of the greatest-footballers of our generation decides to call it a day.

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A sprained ankle and Hauz Khas village

October 18th, 2012

One of the most important things to keep in mind while writing a blog I think, is to keep it nice and simple and to write in a way that makes it easy for the reader to grasp the true meaning of what you really want to convey.

Wednesday started as usual with the routine morning jog with my cousin, where I have this tendency of putting my ankles at the mercy of the park’s rugged terrain. But somehow I managed to escape the jogging session with my ankles intact.

Back home, I got a call from one of my closest friend asking me to hop along for lunch at Hauz Khas village. I completed my post graduation from one of India’s most coveted institutes located near Hauz Khas. I always heard my batchmates singing praises about the place, but I never managed to reach the ‘village’ part of it. I decided to join her for lunch and asked her to meet me at New Delhi’s most cherished meeting point — Connaught Place — which is currently in a shambles. I happened to reach before and decided to grab a couple of orchids for my friend from a florist who stays open 24X7. Done with picking up the flowers, I was stepping out of the florist’s shop when he called me up from behind to fill up a feedback form. With my face turned one side and my feet the other, I landed awkwardly on my right ankle, tweaking it. I could feel a gush of pain in my ankle.

With a couple of orchids in my hand, I somehow managed to limp my way into the bustling Rajiv Chowk metro station. A direct, crowded metro got us to Green Park from where an auto-rickshaw took us to our destination.

At first look, Hauz Khas village looked like your average hangout zone, nestled safely next to the Hauz Khas fort. But as you start walking inside those narrow decorated alleys you get to see the real side of the village. There is an armada of stores inside. The first one that caught my eye was a shop located in a basement. The entrance of the shop was laden with posters from yesteryear Bollywood flicks. Everything from Mother India to Mughal-e-azam.

KUZART LANE

Our first stop was the magnificent Kuzart Lane — an art gallery cum café. The entrance to the lane is spell bounding. A dark alley illuminated with numerous light bulbs hanging from the roof, perfectly placed in one line. On either side of the lane are two walls, which have been decorated with paintings from various artists. Most of them would be a treat for any art lover as they are available at much cheaper prices than the original price which is of course mentioned on every painting that is clinging to the colourful wall.

The café is in itself a separate entity. It has been built and designed exquisitely. The walls painted in the form of a huge bird which bears beautiful colours. On the other wall in the café are two unique guitars: each with a painting etched onto it. The menu has a variety of snacks, main course meals and sparkling beverages to go along with it and add to it the melodious playlist that keeps producing one track after the other. The Kuzart café shouldn’t chalk out much out of your pocket.

After a hefty lunch at the Kuzart, we wandered again, though, this time to find another place called Elma’s Bakery. It sounded pretty neat to me, whereas my friend was anxious to see and try the bakery as she had read about it quite frequently.

ELMA’S BAKERY

After walking for a good few minutes, I could see a small board peeking from behind another one, which read Elma’s Bakery. My friend jumped as if she had been awarded the Pulitzer. As we climbed the stairs of the bakery, I could sense the amazing aroma that was engulfing the walk. A mixed aroma of cream, chocolate and coffee surrounded us as we entered the bakery. The place has been bought together very nicely and has been given the look of an old British house. With comfortable chairs, paintings, huge windows with plants climbing on them and probably the most prominent part of the café, a soothing white piano at the end of the room. The menu at Elma’s is classy. You have tea — almost all sorts of tea. Its like, you name it they have it. A bout of hot chocolate and a chocolate croissant was what Elma’s offered us at our first visit. Even the high tea at the bakery was impressive.

Anyone who is looking for calmness along with a pinch of class should definitely pay visit to Elma’s Bakery. Albeit, a tad expensive, it is worth every single penny.

These are just two of the many places that the Hauz Khas village has to offer. And at the end of the day, the pain in the ankle really didn’t matter. I am sure to return to the village for more experiences, if nothing but to buy a few vintage Bollywood posters.

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The Flying Dutchman

September 17th, 2012

Ever since Robin Van Persie announced his decision not to sign a new contract with Arsenal in July, various suitors were lurking for the Dutchman’s signature. Manager Arsene Wenger had a daunting task ahead of him. He was on the verge of making a key-decision. What do you do with a player who scored 37 goals in all competitions the previous season? (30 of which came in the league itself).

Wenger had the option of keeping Van Persie for another year at the Emirates, hoping that the Netherlands-international would have a change-of-mind and stay put. But Wenger could see the discontent in the player’s eyes. For someone who has been at the club for more than eight years, an FA Cup winner’s medal and a charity Community shield was far from convincing. No offence, Arsenal is a great club with an illustrious history, which saw the likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and many more bring success at Highbury and then the Emirates. But Van Persie had his heart set on moving to a new club, seeking a new challenge.

Reigning Italian champions Juventus, English champions Manchester City backed by their ‘petro-pounds’ and cross-town rivals Manchester United were all gunning for the Gunners’ skipper. Speculation grew over a move to Old Trafford after Sir Alex Ferguson stayed behind in London despite a pre-season game. Astonishingly, United agreed terms with Arsenal for Van Persie’s transfer on our Independence Day. Within a couple of days Van Persie completed a medical, agreed personal terms and signed a four-year contract. The world of football was buzzing with frantic headlines. Football pundits laid out their analysis on whether Sir Alex had played his cards right this time out.

Why bring in a 29-year old striker who has had most parts of his career blighted with injuries? And on top of that a player who might have been available for a free-transfer come next year.

Ferguson has bought in Van Persie not as an investment for the future. He has been brought in to be prolific. To wrestle back the Premier League title United lost to City on mere goal-difference. And Van Persie has a proven track record.

With a gifted-left foot, he is one of the most deadly finishers in the game. He possesses a magnificent volley, is versatile and also a set-piece specialist.

To be honest, Van Persie has already justified his £24 million price-tag. He has already banged in 4 goals in 3 appearances, including a hattrick in a 3-2 comeback win against the Saints. One has to say that Ferguson has finally landed the ‘big-name signing’ United lacked ever since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in 2009. Also, it was a pleasant yet defiant move to hand ‘the Flying Dutchman’ the #20 jersey, that was made famous by a certain  ‘baby-faced assassin’ — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Van Persie is one of Ferguson’s marquee signings in a long, long time.

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