He came. He saw. He conquered.
But, even if he had not decided to take the trouble of travelling all the way from Buenos Aires to Kolkata, it would have been the same.
Diego Armando Maradona had already conquered the mind and soul of every Kolkatan, some 22 years before, when his Argentina had won the world cup under scorching Mexican heat. His physical presence was not necessary to reconfirm it.
In those 48 hours of his staying in Kolkata, we got football for only ten minutes – seven in the Mohun Bagan ground on December 7 and three more here and there - in the official press conference and in other places.
Then what did he do in the rest of those 47 hours and 50 minutes?
Assuming he had taken rest for 40 hours, in the remaining seven, he had to meet the press, offer the photographers probably the greatest moment of joy in their career, inaugurated a football academy, met a retired politician and was present at the Salt Lake stadium to be frustrated at the VIPs’ constant endeavour to get closer to him so that their faces can be seen in television!
There was not a single moment when he was allowed to talk to the leading footballers or football-coaches of the country!
Some may ask, what was the use? Would it have changed the course of Indian football if Maradona was allowed to talk to the national team players?
No, never. Indians, however, may think otherwise. For, the cricket-crazy Indian media always feed them, one sudden observation of changing the grip or stance or posture can change a cricketer’s career overnight! Person who had observed so, is interviewed umpteenth times. Person who was forced to change his style due to that observation, is interviewed even more. And the observation is quoted every time the cricketer does something extraordinary. So, we are inclined to believe it to be such an easy task.
Football, I am afraid, can not be changed only through conversations or observations. It requires acquired-skills. In fact, all the games. But that is a different issue.
Here, it is difficult even to make people understand the value of interacting with a footballer of Maradona’s stature. They are blatantly asking, if Maradona’s conversations with the footballers could not have the desired effect on Indian football, what is the problem? And you thought this country would prosper in soccer!
Maradona had openly declared in the official press conference that the only difference between Pele and him is, while Pele is a friend of the administrators, he is a friend of the footballers. And he was denied the opportunity to interact with the fraternity of footballers. That is simply shocking.
Was not it really important to meet Baichung Bhutia? Or, Alvito de Cunha, Sunil Chhetri? Or, for that matter, coaches like Bob Houghton, Subhash Bhowmick, Subrata Bhattacharya, Derek Perreira, Sukhwinder Singh?
Was not it more important to have an interactive session with football-related people rather than meeting political leaders? Who did deserve it more to interact with Diego – the leaders, the VIPs who do not know how to behave, the media-persons, or, the footballers?
We do not know whether we shall get another opportunity to have him so near to us. Then, if Diego was available, why did we fail to arrange one interactive session of half an hour with the Indian footballers and coaches?
Football was really the last thing in the priority list during those 48-hours and probably that had irked Diego more than those publicity-hungry politicians present at the Salt Lake Stadium on the afternoon of December 6!
How could we be so injudicious?