Amid gloom, a silver lining in Rashford

December 20, 2020 0 By boss

“Take a bow, Marcus,” said football’s parent body. The young footballer has been brilliant on the pitch, but his off the pitch contributions made him the sportsperson of the year.

Manchester United captain Harry Maguire and Manchester City centre-half John Stones exchanged hugs and pleasantries following an insipid Premier League derby at Old Trafford that ended in a goalless draw. After the final whistle, United first team coach Michael Carrick put his arm around City manager Pep Guardiola’s shoulder and broke into a friendly conversation. At Sky Sports studio, Roy Keane was left dismayed and let it rip.

“We’ve got two bookings in a derby game; I’ve never seen so many hugs and chats after a game. It’s a derby game, I’m scratching my head. I’m really frustrated because you’ve got to go and win the game. You have to try and find a way to win a game of football,” the former United captain was fuming.

Former United defender Rio Ferdinand, too, didn’t kindly to the post-match bonhomie. “I don’t understand; I don’t get the hugging really. It’s not something I’ve done. I would’ve been on at people for doing it. But I understand this generation are different,” Ferdinand said, as he reflected on the game on YouTube channel FIVE.

Keane and Ferdinand represent a generation that thrived on intense club rivalries in English football, so much so that United and Liverpool players, for example, hardly saw eye to eye even off the pitch. “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that,” the legendary former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly had said in the 1960s. The win at all costs mentality prevailed at least till the turn of the century and a little beyond. It’s heartening to see the positive change.

Shankly was wrong. Keane and Ferdinand were off the mark, because sport is all about working your socks off and fighting hard to win followed by handshakes, hugs and making friends. In football, the fight ends after 90 minutes and friendship begins. Maguire and Stones are England team mates. It was great to see them embracing each other after the match. The present generation is smarter and they can put things in perspective. In a weird year that saw Covid-induced devastation — at the last count, as per the World Health Organization data, the global death toll stood at 1,65,0348 — perspective became even more important.

This year, we saw the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and Euro 2020. For the first time since World War 2, The Wimbledon Championships were cancelled. Legends like Kobe Bryant, Diego Maradona, Paolo Rossi, and our very own PK Banerjee and Chuni Goswami left us. Major First World economies plunged into recession. Emerging economies like India for example, slipped into a deep, dark dungeon. The grim reality probably taught us to throw the win at any cost mentality out of the window and embrace camaraderie.

Credit to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for conducting a successful Indian Premier League (IPL) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Organising such a big tournament, with so many players from different countries, in a bio-secure environment for more than two month was a huge challenge.

The BCCI, with the help of the UAE authorities, passed with flying colours. Matches, be it the IPL or football, behind closed doors felt like ghost games. But in a troubled year, fans at least had something to fall back on in the evening. A 25 % rise in the IPL TV viewership attested the tournament’s charm.

As the annus horribilis draws to a close, Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford offered hope for the present and the future. The 23-year-old from Wythenshawe took up the cudgels to ‘End Child Food Poverty’ and successfully campaigned to provide free meals to over 1.4 million children in UK. He was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) during the Queen’s Birthday Honours for 2020. The young hero transcended club rival rivalries and became a role model. He duly became the first recipient of the Fifa Foundation Award. The governing body of world football also pledged a $100,000 donation to support Rashford’s charity work. When during lockdown, some sportspersons were posting their haircut videos/pictures on social media, the United frontman was busy changing lives.

“I wanted to make change and to give people a better chance at life. It is having a good impact and it is working at the end of the day. The kids are looking forward instead of behind, they have got their heads up instead of down, so thank you very much,” Rashford said after receiving the Fifa award, as quoted by the Fifa website.

“Take a bow, Marcus,” said football’s parent body. The young footballer has been brilliant on the pitch, but his off the pitch contributions made him the sportsperson of the year.

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