Warming up to the U-17 World Cup

The excitement was palpable at the draw ceremony for the under-17 World Cup. It’s nice to see so many people and the media talk about the event and I hope we all play our part in making it a success.

Legends Nwankwo Kanu (right) and Esteban Cambiasso during the official draw of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Mumbai.   -  PTI

I’ve realised one thing over the last month — if football hogs the maximum area on your life’s pie chart, then there’s no such thing as an off-season. I did have a small break with my family, away to Hong Kong, but I couldn’t stop myself from keeping tabs on things happening with the sport, in the country and beyond. And there is so much that has happened.

It was a seemingly blink-and-you-miss kind of affair, but the Confederations Cup was an interesting tournament. Germany went on to beat Chile in the final and you cannot but stand and applaud the way German football is developing. They could afford to give Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Leroy Sane, Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and names of that class a break and still go on and win the tournament.

To call this a ‘B’ team would be nothing but disrespectful to the German FA and their efforts. You’ve also got to remember that around the same time the German Under-21 team went on to be crowned champions of Europe, beating Spain 1-0 in the final. The FA decided that their systems needed an overhaul in 2003 and they went about fixing things. You have to feel for Joachim Loew and the kind of headaches he will endure when it comes to picking a squad that travels to Russia for the World Cup in 2018.

Speaking about Russia, there are a lot of opinions flying around whether the Confed Cup should be done away with as it doesn’t seem to do anyone any good. Apparently the attendance wasn’t the best and some felt it was an overdose of the sport. In my opinion, it’s a matter of perspective. The tournament does a world of good to the smaller teams ahead of the World Cup. It also lets the big boys of world football experiment and Germany have been the best possible advert for that.

But then again, it eats into some much-needed vacation time of the players, which is a very valid concern. Look at the kind of season players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Alexis Sanchez had. They could surely do with some rest and time to recover. Instead they’ve answered the call of the country and pulled on the national shirt to compete.

This could have well been the last Confed Cup if what’s read is to be believed, and I still have mixed opinions about it. But being a professional footballer, I can safely say that time away from the game can do more good than harm in the long run. Then again, you can never say no to your country.

Coming closer home, I’ve pledged the next three years of my club football to Bengaluru FC as we prepare for life in the Indian Super League. Bangalore has always been close to my heart and the love of the fans of this club has played a big part in my decision to extend my stay. We’re going to start things from scratch at BFC and the thought is as daunting as it is exciting.

I was in Mumbai for the draw ceremony of the U-17 World Cup and the excitement was palpable. It’s nice to see so many people and the media talk about the event and I hope we all play our part in making it a success. On the football front, our colts have been handed a tough looking group with USA, Colombia and Ghana in the fray. But the last thing they should do is take pressure. The young ones have to go out there, soak in the experience and enjoy themselves. There is going to be some fantastic talent on display and I hope fans of the sport in India go to the stadiums and catch as many games as possible.

My holiday is slowly inching to an end and I’ve started hitting the gym before the pre-season springs a surprise on me! We have a big AFC Cup inter-zone semifinal against the 4.25 SC from North Korea and I cannot wait to get back on the pitch. There will be so much to talk about the next time I sit down to write another piece. Till then, soak yourself with transfer rumours from the world over and before you know it, there will be a sea of football to drown in!

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