Gambling with Stars, Where is Artistry?

On the day when World and Euro Champions Spain started their Euro’12 campaign at Ukraine, 18 Spanish banks submitted to Helsinki seeking financial bail-out! Andre Iniesta’s words two years back at South Africa came alive once more. The Barcelona and Spain national team’s talismanic midfielder, after scoring the solitary goal in the final of FIFA World Cup’10, had reminded that in the midst of the euphoria was a reality where a large part of Spain’s people lived in poverty.

As the ball rolls on the lush green meadows, the Eurozone crisis gets deeper and deeper. As Merkel and Eurozone bosses ‘warned’ Greeks not to vote for radical left Syriza and KKE (communist), the Greek football team, champions of 2004, managed to stay afloat in the “Euro-zone,” edging past favourites Russia. Karagounis and company may have reflected the zeal of the people of Greece to win against all odds. Not only Greece, the entire continent including hosts Ukraine and Poland, have been tormented by severe economic crisis in the wake of globalization which has reached a phase of crony capitalism, unemployment, lack of political stability leading to riots, strikes and brutal state repression. How can these not take its toll on the game?

Though the present ruling class of Ukraine is eager to showcase its development by co-hosting this event, the backdrop has been chaotic with political turmoil and issues of human rights violations. Popular opinion about this Euro-Cup being held by Ukraine is mixed. As Victor Ivanuso, a mining sector worker of a western town Chervonograd pointed it out, “they have spent millions on the stadium which shall remain grossly underused after the tournament, but the roads and bridges remain awful. Currently the euro-cup gives us a feel-good atmosphere, but represents a huge burden in the future. Even our children will have to pay for this!”

The condition of co-hosts Poland has been no better though. There has been huge criticism of Soviet dominance on Polish football and the clubs during communist regime. More than 20 years after that, Poland have only managed to reach the final stage of major tournaments twice, and have been eliminated from the group stage on both occasions. Though three of the current team players have starred in German outfit Borussia Dortmund’s recent triumph, they failed miserably to satisfy their fans on home soil. But the old communist regime had produced the golden era of Polish football. The national team clinched the third place in FIFA World Cup twice in 1974 and 1982 defeating Brazil and France respectively. Paul Breitner, a dynamic star of the World champion German team of 1974 revealed that Poland was the best side of the planet during that episode and the Germans were lucky to scrape past them on home soil. Grzegorz Lato or Zbigniev Boniek were world conquering giants whom the current Polish side and fans miss terribly.

Mario Balotelli, an young promising striker of Italy, was showered with racially abusive chants and comments while on the pitch facing Spain. The heartless “legacy” of abusing players with dark skins continues. FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) volunteers were present at the stadium in every match. But in very first game at Warsaw, 20 year old Czech Republic defender Gebre Selasssie of Ethiopian decent was “greeted” with monkey chants by some Polish spectators. But the most shocking announcement came from a Polish mayor who thanked the citizens on radio after a match describing their behaviour as “civilised responsible whites”!

With some super-stars receiving astronomical transfer fees, the big clubs and the big leagues along with its sponsors dominate the game all over the World. The leagues apart from England, Spain, Italy, Germany suffer from diminishing resources, with the middle tier players also migrating to the these big leagues, also preferring the lower divisions. Unlike the past episodes, no emergence of new stars have been noticed in this tournament till date (the end of the group stage), nor any promising young player has attained the level of a megastar like Luis Figo of Portugal did in 2000. Michael Platini and company procrastinate about maintaining balance of power among the Leagues and clubs by fixing the upper limits of transfer fees. The privateers of crony capitalism dominate the sporting arena, maintaining a multibillion transaction-based nexus with the FIFA bosses at Jurich. Diego Maradona, the living legend, rightly pointed out FIFA Supremo Sepp Blatter as the “biggest thief” of the game.

Thus big names appear, but the constellation of stars do not dazzle! Puma and Nike bosses announce the probability of their record profit out of the tournament. Coaches overuse strategy to produce ugly scenes on the pitch. As octogenarian Indian coach Amal Dutta laments “the problem of European football is its over-discipline without any purpose. Strategies throttle brilliance, and players are tired by hectic schedule of club matches. The lack of spontaneity robs the game’s artistry, that Brazil-Argentina-Uruguay are capable of portraying”.

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