Describing the beautiful game

Commentating in India is a first-time experience for John Helm and Russell Osman, who are "pleasantly surprised by the standard of Indian football which is more than what we had expected".


John Helm (right) and Russell Osman are the new voices of Indian football.-R.RAGU

IT was football with a coat of glamour. Zee Sports introduced the pre-match concept of the `Zeebra girls' in tight-fitting striped miniclothing swinging to Ricky Martin's popular song, `Cup of life'. Then to give an international feel to the coverage, two popular voices from English football were brought in — John Helm and Russell Osman.

Helm is one of Europe's top football commentators having been in the field for over 25 years as sports journalist, first with Yorkshire Post and then in broadcasting. He had worked for BBC and was a producer of the highly popular BBC Test Match Special. Currently a freelancer, Helm has covered seven World Cups, several European Championships and UEFA Cups.

Osman played at the highest level from 1975 to 95 and he represented England in the World Cup qualifiers eleven times apart from various other championships in Europe. Russell took to coaching and was the batch-mate of Stephen Constantine in the UEFA Coaches course and talks highly of the former Indian coach.

Commentating in an Indian tournament is a first-time experience for Helm and Osman, who say they are "pleasantly surprised by the standard of Indian football which is more than what we had expected". "There is good talent and some of the players have a good attitude and ball sense," they averred. "We feel they (media) are playing it down too much," they added. Venkatesh, Bibiano Fernandes, Surkumar Singh, Steven Dias and Manju, according to Helm and Osman, are good and can do even better.

Where did they think the Indians should improve? "The basics, the standards of passing, indecisiveness with the ball and often taking wrong options and at times getting confused when the ball is at the feet," said Osman. "India could think of some foreign coaches who could drill in some of the basic requirements. I say this only because I have noticed the warm ups and warm downs that players do and they look so inadequate as compared to their European counterparts. This has to be looked into," said Helm.

Quite satisfied that they have settled down to Indian names (both are proceeding to Kochi for the Santosh Trophy coverage), Helm and Osman said they did not find commentating on Indian football any different or tedious from that of the other parts of the world. Commentating in any sport, John felt, required a passion for it. "You have to be enthusiastic, be accurate and load yourself with facts and then of course take the viewers or listeners with you to the crescendo of the goal-scoring act," said Helm when asked what makes a successful commentator. "I used to carry with me loads of notes on the players, everything on his career, including his likes and dislikes, to suitably use in my commentary," he added.

In contemporary football which footballer was a delight to describe? "Zinedine Zidane," said the two spontaneously. "He has vision, wonderful balance, and could produce pure magic given a little space," said Osman while Helm nodded in approval. On the question of who is the greatest footballer, Helm came up with a surprise: "Maradona is great but permit me to be a little partisan. I will vote for John Charles, who died last year. He was a distinguished centre forward and centre-half and was the first English player to play for Juventus and in one season had scored 42 goals. He was absolutely brilliant."

With Germany 2006 just a year away, both are looking forward to being there, not necessarily to work together (they can be on different networks). What is their combined guess on the winner in Germany? "Brazil, it has to be. It is a team, which peaks well for the World Cups. I saw the country win the Confederations Cup in Germany, beating Argentina and I am convinced that they are the team to beat in Germany. Watch out for Cicinho, he will be a big name," said Helm. It could be `Brazil v Argentina' in the final, he added.

What about England? "At best quarterfinal," said Osman. "The team is good, Rooney and Lampard are playing well but the coach has to have a positive outlook." As for the dark horse of the World Cup, they thought it could be the Czech Republic. "Who knows those new names from Africa, they are always full of surprises."

On some of his best moments in his career, the experienced Helm said "meeting Sachin Tendulkar and interviewing him for Yorkshire Post". "He happened to be the first overseas recruit for Yorkshire (he had actually come in for Craig McDermott) and even if he did not score many runs, Tendulkar was and continues to be hugely popular in Yorkshire. He is such a magnificent person. I am happy he is back in form," said Helm.

For Osman it was his first visit to India while John and his wife had celebrated their silver jubilee marriage anniversary in New Delhi. "Oh, we like Goa though we have had no time to go around a bit," said Osman. "How is Kochi? Is there a golf course there?" he asked.

Their next halt awaits them as they give a new dimension to television commentary in the country.