The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Winning one major championship does not quite call for celebrations on the scale that Calcutta witnessed when East Bengal won the ASEAN club tournament. For one thing, the victory by no means signified that Indian football had reached international standards. None of the leading football clubs of the world were playing in the championship, not even clubs from China and South Korea. This somewhat reduces the importance of East Bengalís victory. The jubilation of the clubís fans and of football fans in general, in a way is an indication of the poverty of Calcutta soccer. Even a minor triumph becomes a major event. The standard of football in the Calcutta Maidan has never quite touched international levels, not even in the golden days of Calcutta football. It has always been a popular sport but confined to a small and insular arena. In such a context, the winning of any tournament outside India seems like a major achievement and the celebrations are quite out of keeping with reality. This is not to deny that East Bengal played well and won handsomely but this is to put its win in proper perspective. The win is only a signpost which tells everybody how backward Indian football actually is.

The real significance of East Bengalís victory lies elsewhere. East Bengalís win is the product of the impact that globalization has had on soccer. A number of non-Indian players played for East Bengal; the data on which the strategy of the team was grounded was drawn from the internet; and generally the aspiration levels and the skills of the footballers have undergone a qualitative transformation after watching the top teams of the world on television. As a result of this victory, other clubs in Asia are keen to employ players in the East Bengal team. This will result in a greater mobility of talent across Asia. Behind all this is an overall ambience that facilitates greater professionalization of football in India. East Bengal club is going through a process of corporatization of which professionalism is an important facet. East Bengalís triumph thus points to the way Indian football should take. The following of the path will largely depend on the example Calcutta sets since Calcutta has always been the nursery of Indian football. The path points outwards. It suggests that Calcutta football move away from the small arena or from what can be called the Maidan mentality. Maybe there is a message in all this for the whole of West Bengal and its policy makers: West Bengal can triumph only through greater contact with the world.

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