While some celebrated Germany’s victory, others wept for Argentina’s loss. But, every football fan in the City of Joy revelled in the World Cup finalists’ Kolkata connections.
This football-crazy metropolis, known to split between Brazil and Argentina in every edition of the World Cup, witnessed the emergence of a German support base as fans sent off crackers and took out processions after Philipp Lahm lifted the golden trophy at Maracana on Sunday night.
The steep surge in German popularity owes a lot to Bayern Munich’s achievements as a football powerhouse and their love for Kolkata. Legendary goalkeeper Oliver Kahn’s farewell fixture at Salt Lake Stadium in May 2008 was the beginning of the much-cherished association.
A few months later, Kolkata had also hosted Thomas Muller, who had come down with Bayern’s Under-19 side. Veteran soccer star Gerd Muller, who was the visiting team’s assistant coach, had described the gangly 19-year-old as the “next big thing” in German football. Six years years down the line, Muller has lived up to expectations.
Secretary of East Bengal Football Club Kalyan Majumder had fond memories of Muller’s visit. “It gives me a strong sense of pride that Muller is now a World Cup winner. He came here, trained at our ground and played in an exhibition match against us. It was a privilege to host the Bayern team. In fact, we wanted to enter into a tie-up with them, but somehow the plan didn’t materialise,” said Majumder.
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IFA secretary Utpal Ganguli cheered Argentina in the final, but agreed that the German victory brought back fond memories. “Kahn and the hall of famers came here. Muller played here, and during every visit, Bayern gave an impression that they were serious about forging a partnership. They wanted to set up their own academy in Bengal, but I don’t know why the idea was shelved,” Ganguli told The Indian Express.
Indian football is a saga of missed opportunities. State sports minister Madan Mitra, however, vowed to seek German help in making things better. “I supported Argentina all the way, but Germany was the best team of the tournament. I will try my level best to bring this German team to Kolkata, but more importantly, we will try to bring in German expertise to our state-run West Bengal Football Academy. We are already in talks with the German Football Association (DFB) in this regard.”
Argentina, which came very close to winning the title, too, evoked fond memories in the hearts of Kolkata football lovers. The Argentina team had visited the city in 2011 to play an international friendly against Venezuela at Salt Lake Stadium. The match saw Messi’s coronation as the captain of the national team and was also Alejandro Sabella’s first tie as the head coach.
Messi, however, had not been able to share his experience of playing on Kolkata soil, thanks to power failure at the stadium. Now, that football’s new world order is officially German, our authorities would do better to pull up their socks and seek help from DFB to develop the country’s young talent.
Merely inviting big teams and star players for exhibition matches will do little in this regard. After all, India hosts the Under-17 Fifa World Cup in 2017.