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What football needs to learn from the IPL

Football is a sport in crisis, but help is at hand, from cricket

Sidin Vadukut

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Cristiano Ronaldo runs with the ball, Denmark v Portugal, Euro, Lviv, June 13, 2012
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Series/Tournaments: Indian Premier League
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Like many other people I too watched the recent Euro 2012 group match between Sweden and England. It was a marginally exciting match that ended 3-2 in favour of the English, despite the English having pretty much scored all five goals.

But then that is the madness of football for you. Can Lasith Malinga take a wicket for New Zealand? Of course not. Can Sachin Tendulkar score a century for Sri Lanka? Probably not, but I am not waiting to find out. Can Azhar Mahmood turn up to play for England?

Surely you get my point.

But somewhere towards the end of the match it was clear that nobody watching, at home on TV or in the stadium, was paying attention to the match anymore. Indeed it was cruelly ironic to see female Swedish supporters stream out of the stadium in tears, while bored English fans, all professional darts players no doubt, took their tops off. Bemused non-partisan Ukrainian fans looked on, dressed in monkey suits.

It doesn't have to be this way.

Football does not have to be this hard to watch. If even the European championship, one of the sport's signature events, is struggling to engage viewers, then it time for FIFA, UEFA and the Italian underworld to have a good hard look.

At the Indian Premier League.

Yes. I went there.

Many positive and denigrating words have been used to describe the IPL over the last many years.

But "boring", "uneventful", "finishes too quickly", "minimal nudity", "not enough stoppages" and "Pele is trying to sell something" aren't among them. That is exactly why the people who run football will do well to bring some of the IPL's professionalism, methods and showmanship to the Euro championship.

Look at the lop-sided situation in Group C. For instance, what could possibly strengthen the Republic of Ireland team, and increase the excitement in that group, like the ability to hire international players to plug Irish skills gaps? Imagine how good the Irish team would be if only UEFA allowed them to hire Inter Milan's Julio Cesar in goal, Didier Drogba in attack, and AK Antony in defence? Not only would this have improved Ireland's performances, it would have evened out the quality in that group.

Indeed the next logical step for FIFA or UEFA will be to organise tournaments involving privately owned teams where players are freely selected without constraints of nationality. This will free football from the shackles of parochialism and nationalism. But that is a long-term step.

There is also tremendous room for improvement in the branding and marketing of teams. Take a team like Ukraine. For casual football fans the team is an utter unknown. At best they may have heard of Ukraine's most well-known player: Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk's Oleksiy Antonov. The rest of the team? Shakhtar Don'task.

All this helps to do is alienate neutrals, who currently simply cannot tell their Karagounis from their Khara Bhath. Instead, why not give the teams more fetching names and more easily identifiable uniforms? For example: English Lions, Vikings XI Sweden, Ukraine Ukrainians. Just typing those words makes me want to run to my nearest football merchandise store and buy a fetching pair of lycra hot pants and tanktop in signature Swedish yellow, emblazoned with Viking motifs.

Another problem staring FIFA and UEFA in the face is the problem of duration. This is 2012. People simply don't sit in one place for more than 45 minutes unless there is an Apple keynote address going on. No sporting event has captured the ever-shortening attention span of the modern homo sapien quite like the IPL.

Break things up, FIFA! This non-stop run of play is not good for the players, the coaches, the viewers or the broadcasters. Try breaking the game into quarters instead of halves. With an optional time-out for coaches where they can impart strategy - "Best to avoid own goals boys" - and substitute Balotelli.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let us not even get into other problems like the off-side rules, lack of video replays, cramped schedules and Cristiano Ronaldo.

International football has a crisis on its hands. It just needs to know where to look.

Sidin Vadukut is the managing editor of Livemint.com and the author of the novel Dork: The Incredible Adventures of Robin 'Einstein' Varghese. He blogs at Domain Maximus.

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Comments: 20 
Posted by   on (June 19, 2012, 14:59 GMT)

well copared to some of the others on ehre this is on of the better ones i agree with the sentiment I find international football boring but the alternative already exists the european elagues and the UEFA Champions Leage! and club football rocks

Posted by ImpartialObserver on (June 19, 2012, 7:09 GMT)

Very good article, Sidin! C'mon guys, at least looking at the English used in the article and having seen Sidin's previous articles, you HAVE TO UNDERSTAND that he's NOT ignorant about Football! My Goodness me! Why would anyone think that cricket is more popular than Football? Anyway, sorry Sidin; the people who've posted comments of this kind have stolen the thunder from you! Comments are the funnier of the two.

Posted by RohanMarkJay on (June 19, 2012, 6:13 GMT)

Its not football that is in crisis. Its cricket especially test cricket. Football will survive anything thats thrown at it because over a hundred different nations are passionate about it. In cricket's case outside south asian nations. No ones really passionate about it or cares about it. I am afraid those are the facts. Football doesn't need to learn anything from IPL. I like cricket and football I think they are both great sports. However to compare both these sports is like comparing apples and oranges.

Posted by shakki on (June 19, 2012, 4:06 GMT)

I watch both cricket and football. Out of the two football is alot more exciting! :)

Posted by SanjivAwesome on (June 18, 2012, 23:41 GMT)

Funny article. Even funnier posts. Humour is alive!

Posted by   on (June 18, 2012, 23:08 GMT)

OMG i cant believe people are comparing CRICket with football...football is the world's most beautiful game..cricket does not even come close ..just compare how many nations play cricket and then compare it with football...:P if it was dat good then m sure more nations would play..only a fool wil argue on this..EL CLASSICo is a match which is played btween madrid and barcelona...it is watched by billions and trillions ( and this is just one match) ...and m sure cricket does not even have this many TOTAL VIEWERS lol.:P..CRICKET IS BORING THAT"S why they introduced one day cricket and now T20 ....how many people go to see one day match ..yaeh right half of the stadiums are always empty ..only T20 cricket attracts crwd to some extent...

Posted by   on (June 18, 2012, 22:08 GMT)

pfft...most of the comments here make me laugh....people are saying socccer/football is better than cricket...pfft pfft pffft.....most disgusting sport ever is soccer.....cricket is the most beautiful sport and nothing will replace it....and dont give me that most popular sport crap...

Posted by sams235 on (June 18, 2012, 19:25 GMT)

That was funny. Why dont people get it? Its supposed to be a funny article. Ofcourse he doesnt mean it literally. Sheesh!

Posted by DADA on (June 18, 2012, 18:39 GMT)

AK Antony in defense.. that is classic.

Posted by   on (June 18, 2012, 13:09 GMT)

There is UEFA champions league where there is no restriction regarding nationality unlike PIL where only 4 foreigners are allowed :P

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Sidin Vadukut
Sidin Vadukut has been writing extensively about cricket since he started writing this column for ESPNcricinfo. He comes from a family of footballers, who all nurture virulent hate for cricket in general and Basit Ali in particular. Vadukut is the author of the Dork trilogy of office-culture humour novels. By day he is a columnist and editor with business daily Mint. At night, depending on when he gets off work, he goes home or fights crime. His favourite cricketer is Saeed Anwar. By which he means Sachin Tendulkar. Jai Hind.

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Sidin VadukutClose
Sidin Vadukut has been writing extensively about cricket since he started writing this column for ESPNcricinfo. He comes from a family of footballers, who all nurture virulent hate for cricket in general and Basit Ali in particular. Vadukut is the author of the Dork trilogy of office-culture humour novels. By day he is a columnist and editor with business daily Mint. At night, depending on when he gets off work, he goes home or fights crime. His favourite cricketer is Saeed Anwar. By which he means Sachin Tendulkar. Jai Hind.
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