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‘Messi or Ronaldo? Probably neither’

Pradip Choudhury was a footballer in what was then Bombay. Everyone across Indian football’s landscape knew him well enough as a doughty central defender. His level of concentration was amazingly high.

SNS | New Delhi |

Pradip Choudhury was a footballer in what was then Bombay. Everyone across Indian football’s landscape knew him well enough as a doughty central defender. His level of concentration was amazingly high.

He seldom wilted. Coming over to Mohun Bagan in 1976 added to his fame as the club found themselves on the victory track after six long yearsand taking on Pele in an Eden Gardens game the green and-maroon team played against New York Cosmos the next year made him a superstar.

He is one of the country’s best-known players unafraid to talk about his international experiences, having held his own in an elite company. All that, plus the fact that he spent quite a while in Qatar as India’s manager made him an automatic choice for a World Cup 2022 colloquy.

He spoke as calmly as he looked after India’s defense in his day, and very, very clearly, not ducking potentially nettlesome queries, and without beating about the bush.

He told Pulakesh Mukhopadhyay why close-range ball controllers no longer lend the light of life to football anymore and acknowledged his acceptance of the halt called to Europe’s domestic leagues for football’s supreme show to be gone ahead.

Excerpts:

Q: Who is stronger in this World Cup, Europe or Latin America? Who do you think will win it?

A: Difficult to specify any team so early in the tournament. Europe, of course, dominates the game but people love Latin American teams because of their flair. Europe combines pace with power and Latin Americans play art football. Ask an ordinary Indian and chances are he will see the tournament in terms of a battle between Brazil and Argentina.

He may not be a football buff but his heart is with Latin America. But then, we have to reckon with the fact that the best Latin Americans have been playing for the top European clubs now, so Europe knows how they play. So it can plan its response accordingly.

What we can say very easily is that there is going to be a big, intense battle between the two continents. Is France the best European bet? I don’t know as some of their first-choice players, including Karim Benzema, are injured. Let us see.

Q: Do Latin Americans still play the art football they once did? Are they capable of it today?

A: The best ones among them still try it. That is for sure.

Q: Whom will Qatar’s conditions suit more: Europeans or Latin Americans?

A: The turfs are lush green. Good for all. There is air-conditioning. It should be very good for all. Doha is okay.

Q: Leo Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?

A: Probably neither. Both have been around for long and I am not sure either can carry his team through an entire tournament in the teeth of very uncompromising rivals. There is no doubt about the fact that each is technically sound but that alone does not clinch it. Also, I think that Neymar, for all his skills, tends to playact injuries far too often and if he is at it this time around as well, it is going to upset Brazil’s rhythm. It will let them down with a thud.

Q: How will it help football that all European domestic leagues are stopped for this unusually timed World Cup?

A: The World Cup comes around once in four years. It is okay.

Q: Is it not bad for both the Cup and the leagues? What about the fixture congestion?

A: Fixture congestion is a fact of life because there is so much money in the game. Players, as professionals, have to be fit.

Q: But football has lost its entertainment value. Crowds have gone down. Counter-attacking football puts people off. Very few balls-controlling players have emerged in a long time. Fans do not really relish even their favorite club’s victory. Where have the dribbling greats gone?

A: Look, these days four fixed, tall, and muscular defenders rule all that out. There are smaller teams in the English Premier League that crowd glamour teams out and wait for a dead ball situation to strike and take home the points. If I were the coach I shall only try to free Kylian Embappe up to run with the ball and hit home.

Q: That implies players’ powers have declined as the ball travels faster than a man and there have always been physically strong def enders with an imposing presence.

A: This is the game as it is played today.