A noble gesture

FC Bayern Munich All Star captain Paul Breitnerwith the trophy after a charity match against East Bengal All Star XI in Kolkata.-Pics.PTI

“We at Bayern are happy to give something back to football for what it has given us,” Breitner said about his club's decision to play the fund-raiser. “Four-five years ago, we decided to play matches like this. This is our sixth match of the year.” Over to Amitabha Das Sharma.

The richness of its football history is keeping the guest-list rising for Kolkata, whose heritage value is turning out to be quite an invitation for the luminaries of world football. India's current status in the sport notwithstanding, the fact that the city hosts some of the oldest soccer clubs outside the British Isles seems to be adding to the charm. The last few years have really turned the city into a pilgrimage centre for the sultans of world football. And those who have come include such giants like Diego Maradona, Gerd Muller, Oliver Kahn, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Lothar Matthäus and Diego Forlan.

There was an addition to the list of elite visitors when the Bayern Munich all-star team came calling at the ‘Mecca of Indian football' with six World Cuppers in its fold. The mission was to engage a group of former Indian internationals from East Bengal in a friendly duel for charity. The city's appetite for soccer superstars was satiated by the presence of the ebullient Paul Breitner and the reserved Andreas Brehme, who cornered most of the attention.

Amid the bonhomie surrounding the arrival of the high-profile visitors, the real disaster happened where Indians fare the worst — on the field. The Bayern Munich veterans thrashed their East Bengal counterparts 10-3, an embarrassment that was little anticipated. The demoralising defeat came to remind one of the enormity of the chasm in levels of excellence that puts Indian football on the back-bench of the world rankings.

The drubbing that the hosts received was in stark contrast to the confidence shown by one of the former East Bengal stars, Surajit Sengupta, who was also the manager of the squad that met the Germans. “There may have been a big gap of difference in excellence when we played competitive football. I hope age will narrow the gap and we will able to compete on equal terms with our guests,” was how Sengupta put it on the eve of the encounter.

In what turned out to be a big anticlimax the Who's Who of East Bengal were caught terribly under-prepared. The feeling after the defeat was best summed up by the former India skipper Debjit Ghosh. “One has to admit to the sea of gap between us and them. They are academy-bred athletes who have the stamina to play 90 minutes even at this age,” Ghosh said. “Never in my life have we been beaten so comprehensively. We have played against the best of Asia and conceded maybe five goals, but never 10,” he added.

What added to the embarrassment was the revelation by the Bayern Munich All-Stars captain Paul Breitner later that the match had been fixed! When asked if the organiser — a charity organisation called Towards Life Foundation — had requested the German team before the match to keep the scoreline below 10, Breitner paused a while before replying, “Yes, they did. Also, after we had scored nine goals, we said that was enough. But there were so many chances that we could not help but score one more,” Breitner added.

East Bengal captain Sudhir Karmarkar with Breitner before the match.-

The charity-minded Germans played true to sentiment, fielding, perhaps, the first Indian in their squad. Arunava Chowdhury, who took Indian football to the world with his website ‘indianfootball.com,' came in as a late replacement for none other than Breitner. Chowdhury, who resides in Germany, was repaid in kind for his liaison work, which he has been doing every time a Bayern team makes a visit here.

“We at Bayern are happy to give something back to football for what it has given us,” Breitner said about his club's decision to play the fund-raiser. “Four-five years ago, we decided to play matches like this. This is our sixth match of the year,” said Breitner. In their previous outing the Germans won 8-1 against a group of former Luxembourg internationals!

Brietner, who played in two World Cup finals for Germany and was in the winning side of 1974, was the oldest and also the most wizened member at 59. “Football has undergone a sea change. It has become rougher and faster adopting new techniques and technology to become the biggest entertainment tool of the world,” was how Brietner, who now works as a columnist and a commentator, described modern football. “The thinking and approach to the sport was different during the time we played. But the new generation administrators have done well in tapping its entertainment value,” he added.

Brietner's younger compatriot Brehme, who scored the winning goal from a penalty for Germany against Maradona's Argentina in 1990 said, “Germany deserved the title as did the Argentines who won in 1986.” He also talked about the famous incident of Maradona crying after defeat. “It is better that Maradona cried than we crying in Rome (after the final).” When asked to compare Maradona as a player and a coach, Brehme hailed the Argentine star's playing ability. “He has been one of the most incredible players I have seen. The 1986 World Cup was his tournament, but as a coach he has a lot more to prove,” he said.