Friday, March 10, 2006

The Left Winger


Question: Who is your favorite left winger?
Answer: Ronaldinho.

Ronaldinho or Ronaldo Gaucho, shows no "Gaucherie" on the football field, where his performances can be filed under the category "Impeccable". An astute reader of the happenings on the football field, a smart eye for goal, a feel for the pitch, a player whose heartbeat resounds to the beats and roars of the crowds which adore him, a player whose soul is in tune with the soul of a team, Ronaldinho is a success in Barcelona, because he is what Barcelona is all about. Teeming with class, representing the Renaissance Man, Art Barca is reflected in Art Ronaldinho, for whom football is "Art Artia Gratis" (Arts for Arts' sake). Ronaldinho typifies the Beautiful Game, which, for me, is the ultimate Socialist sport.

Question: Politically, why is Ronaldinho your favourite player?
Answer: Because he typifies football, which is at its sublime best, when it is passed around. Football, when played by Brazil typifies why socialism is a target worth working for. Ramachandra Guha once wrote a column on the sociology of sport, in his book "Anthropologists among Marxists", where says why Football is the ultimate socialist game, and I fully agree. The Prima Donna in football ideally is the one who runs the game, by involving his team-mates, and its the team that wins unlike other American sports, where it is the headline maker who wins the game for the team.

Getting to the point: As most of my closest pals know, I am a huge aficionado of football and I still follow whenever I can, the UEFA Champions League and Spanish Primera Liga. I developed interest in watching football from viewing the World Cup matches that were telecasted in Doordarshan, but I became a true fan ever since I started following Champions League football in 2000. I remember that I fell in love with the Real Madrid squad which passed the ball with gay abandon during the pivotal Quarterfinal game against Manchester United (aah that Redondo back heel which resulted in that heavenly Raul goal). Thats when I started following Spanish football, on the internet (I was a regular contributor to the now defunct forums in sports.com and still active forum in soccer-spain.com), and also via the late night live shows on Star Sports.

Spanish Football always intrigued me, because the game was always played in a artistic manner, reflecting the romantic aura that surrounds Spain. Think Spain and you think art, Pablo Picasso is the name that comes to mind. Then, I saw passion reflected in the games between Barcelona and Real Madrid. I saw Luis Figo being jeered and a pig's head thrown at him at the Nou Camp. I was puzzled at the fury that followed every goal, every move that lit up passions every derby game, be it between Barca and Real Madrid or Sevilla and Real Betis or even Deportivo La Coruna and Celta Vigo. Somehow this passion was not really quite there between Liverpool and Everton or even Inter and AC Milan. Whats so special about the Spanish Derbies? Why does Athletico Bilbao recruit only Basque players? All these and more were answered in a introductory manner at soccer-spain.com, but for a detailed account, you can go no further than to read "Morbo, the Story of Spanish Football", an excellent book by Phil Ball, a columnist in Soccernet.com.

Morbo, succinctly tells you how the politics of Spain is linked to the football in Spain. How Spain is a multi-dialect, multi-cultural nation, with its fierce autonomous nationalities within. How the Basques detest the Spaniards, owing mainly because of their distinct Euskadi language, their distinct Basque culture, quite different from Spanish. How the Catalans are protective of their distinctiveness too, how therefore Barcelona typifies Catalan nationalism in a way, how Valencia, the "Los Ches" recruit Argentininians, because they blend in the "Che" spirit too. Why do Sevilla and Betis hate each other? Is it because of the class based support, the gentry and upper classes supporting Sevilla, while the blue collar proletariat supports Betis? All and this and more in "Morbo", an exciting book, a journey in exploring Spain's polity and its integrated football.

Then I realize that politics is part and parcel of football as is football a parcel and part of politics. Silvio Berlusconi is nothing without AC Milan. Jose Luis Zapatero opposes Jose Maria Aznar just as Barcelona detests Real Madrid (you can guess which Jose supports which team now). But the compound mixture is nowhere as complicated and tight as it is in Spain. Every football supporter has a political agenda in supporting his team. If you are a Madridista and a Real fan, you are not merely a Castilian with local fealties, but you are a pro-Nationalist, a pro-Franco royalist. The moment I realized this was the case, my base shifted.

My goalposts were now in the Nou Camp, my affinities were with the then tormented Barca squad, suffering under the tutelage of Louis Van Gaal and under the thrall of the panjandrum Juan Gaspart. Even as the Real squad were accumulating Galacticos, and becoming further more capitalist, playing to the market, and when Florentino Perez's philosophy was reflecting cut-throat capitalist spirit, with the only rationality, being the formal rationality that Max Weber would have approved of, Barcelona did the obvious. It recruited Ronaldinho, suffering at individualist Paris St. Germain and dropped this exquisite fish in troubled Barca waters. Aided by Pit Bull and midfield clean up specialist, Edgar Davids, Ronaldinho did the unthinkable (at that time). He resuscitated Barca's fortunes, lighting up their stadium with not merely his goofy teethy smiles, but also his free flowing football matching his locks. He brought cheers back to the city that celebrates Johan Cryuff's era of total football as much as it symbolizes "total art". He ushered in the new era of Barca football, helped by Riijkaard's "five year planning" as a coach, helped by his upcoming Eisenstein in Lionel Messi, Barca's commissar, Xavi Hernandez and transformed the arty Barca squad into a winning machine.

Just last week, socialism triumphed over capitalism. Barcelona "arty team football" deservedly beat Chelsea "money bags". I was itching to sense the disappointment in Roman Abrahamovich's plastic face after the game. I did.

Viva Barca. I hope they clinch the Champions League this time, I hope Ronaldinho plays the samba at Stade de France, and make France proud of its socialists in town.

2 comments:

vjanand said...

Nice analysis da VRS. I like to stay away from the intricacies of European Football.

I don't follow UEFA at all because of zero coverage here in the US. My last roommate was from Istanbul and he had a hard time following soccer after coming here.

Here, one needs to pay (a lot) for it to watch soccer in cable.

These guys here like to watch foot-ball, baseball and basketball. And I think, to generalize the link between sports and politics, a lot can be said of the way a country is being governed (by politicians, that is) from the sports its citizenry enjoy. IMO, in the US, more emphasis is given for muscularity and agressiveness rather than delicate skills.

I think I've deviated a lot..so I'll stop here. --Vijay.

Srini said...

You are not digressing at all da. Thats the very point I am trying to make in my blog. Somehow the sport in a country is very much related to the political firmament and the sociology that permeates that society. This very point is what Ramachandra Guha hints at in his book, "Anthropologists among Marxists", so succinctly.

He uses American Football as an exemplar. In Am. Football, you have the quarterback (who is invariably a white) who is the all-in-all controller of the game's offence. Very much akin to the CEO of a capitalist firm who is the prima donna of his enterprise. The team enterprise's motto is to win, take it all, come what may. Brute Force, no problem:). Very very similar to the attitude of the American capitalists. Even the American Pastime, Baseball, is so Pitcher and power dominated.

I extrapolated this argument to Japanese Baseball and tried to forge a link between this and Japanese society. Japanese Baseball, or Yakyu is a little bit different from MLB. The emphasis is on the little things, fielding, throwing out, bunting, and doing things the right way. Winning is of course a factor, but its sweetened by ability and skill rather than power and macho. Transfers are not that pronounced. Prima Donnas of a particular team stays there like for eternity, unlike in America, where the main players keep getting traded. A star player, generally stays the course in the Japanese league, only these days, they are increasingly being attracted to the more popular and worldwide watched MLB (Ichiro, Matsui(s), Taguchi, Iguchi, Nomo, etc. ).

Funnily, in India, too, if you could notice clearly, we are a "bourgeois" democracy, ruled by the middle/upper middle class rulers for time eternity, with very few breaks (Charan Singh, Deve Gowda now and then). This is reflected in the social profile of our cricketers too who are generally middle/upper-middle city bred sportsmen. Things in the '90s have changed in the country, and more and more regional satraps, peasant class leaders are coming to the fore, so is the case with the Indian team now. UP cricketers, from mofussil towns, Gujarati lower class workmen like cricketers such as Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who looks straight out of an akhara, are all now changing "Team India"'s social profile.

Yes, indeed, the society is a mirror of its sport and vice versa!