India Welcomes Diego Maradona

Yes, Diego Maradona arrived at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport, Kolkata on Friday. The Argentinean legend was greeted by a number of fans who stood on both sides of the road as he drove from the airport to the hotel.

When I first learnt about Maradona coming to India, I dismissed it as some speculation or what the English call ‘papertalk’. Thereafter, I got to know that a celebrity management group and a Member of Parliament (MP) were behind this trip.

Ever since the news of Maradona’s arrival in India broke, there has been a frenzy and everyone has been waiting for the Argentina coach to arrive.

For last few days, most papers in the City of Joy were solely focused on Maradona. Sadly, though not much attention was given to the Federation Cup.

Everyday, people were treated to news such as Mohun Bagan to felicitate Maradona, the Rs.100 tickets have been sold, XYZ would meet Maradona and what not. I must say that the PR agencies have done a good job.

Then you had MP Shamik Lahiri making new revelations each day as to what he talked about with Maradona! He even conveyed the media when Maradona uttered the hardest word ‘sorry’ to Jorge Valdano for not releasing the ball to score the ‘Greatest Goal of the Century!’

Everyday, there was some meeting and organisation to put up the 48 year old. The hotels were changed and the security was upped. Two helicopters have been fetched for his travel to Maheshtala where he will inaugurate the Indian Football School (IFS).

Then there were doubts as to whether he would come especially after the Mumbai terror when almost all the embassies asked their citizens not to visit India for some time. There were enquiries from Maradona’s entourage as to whether it was safe to travel.

An official from the celebrity management group, who were involved in the organisation was quoted saying, “I said there was nothing to worry about. This (terrorism) is an internal problem, which is happening on an off in the country for the past 20 years. There’s nothing to worry about.

"After all, the state government is in-charge of his (Maradona's) security, what is there to worry about. Kolkata is very much safe city, with no history of terror attacks.”

Wow! While the whole of Indian intelligence agencies are mulling over a foreign hand in the terror plots, this gentleman very amicable puts it as an ‘internal problem!’ Maradona’s arrival has allayed all such fears.

Media from all across the nation has headed to Kolkata to catch a glimpse and in the hope of getting an one-on-one exclusive interview. 

In such cosmetic press conferences, seldom does one get an honest remark especially on controversial topics. I learnt that while Bayern Munich came to Kolkata earlier this year, in one of the media interaction sessions, Mark Van Bommel was asked about his unsporting gesture with hand in the crook of the elbow incident in the Champions League match with Real Madrid in 2007. The Dutchman was unhappy about this and stated that he would like to talk about something else.

An exhibition match between the Chief Minister’s XI and the Foreign Minister’s XI has been organized at the Salt Lake Stadium by the state government while the Federation Cup is being played at the Barasat Stadium!

The two sides will be captained by Bhaichung Bhutia and Dulal Biswas. Bhaichung’s side would be coached by Mohun Bagan’s Karim Bencherifa and East Bengal’s Stanley Rosario while Dulal’s team shall be guided by Mohammedan Sporting’s Shabbir Ali and Chirag United’s Subrata Bhattacharya.

One question which I expect Maradona to be asked, especially after the exhibition match, would be about Indian football and his opinion on that! For me, opinions are formed only after having credible knowledge and analysis of the same. In football, first impression isn’t the last one as the game is very unpredictable!

For now, let’s greet the Legend! I am not sure whether Maradona will utter some words in Hindi or Bengalli but for those who want a personal interaction with the star, please have some Spanish lessons. I would help you start.

Bienvenido Maradona! (Welcome Maradona!)  

Rahul Bali.