Friday, August 27, 2010

The Two Horse Race

It’s the beginning of the new football season. This time of the year, one usually encounters a lot of talk about one league being better. Like all others I have my own criteria of choosing one league to be better than another. Sometimes these criteria are not deemed as important to others and obviously theirs to me. That's when I decided to put down a post taking into account a multitude of factors and statistics before reaching a conclusion, if possible. I will safely assume that the only two leagues in competition are La Liga and the English Premier League.

I’ve broken down the comparison into different points. Of course, I could have skipped some, but I’ve put down whatever came to my mind.

• Top of the league

EPL 10 Che 86 Man 85 Ars 75 Tot 70
EPL 09 Man 90 Liv 86 Che 83 Ars 72
EPL 08 Man 87 Che 85 Ars 83 Liv 76
EPL 07 Man 89 Che 83 Liv 68 Ars 68
EPL 06 Che 91 Man 83 Liv 82 Ars 67

Liga 10 FCB 99 RMA 96 Val 71 Sev 63
Liga 09 FCB 87 RMA 78 Sev 70 Atm 67
Liga 08 RMA 85 Vil 77 FCB 67 Atm 64
Liga 07 RMA 76 FCB 76 Sev 71 Val 66
Liga 06 FCB 82 RMA 70 Val 69 Sev 68

o Chelsea and Manchester have dominated, similar to Barcelona and Real
o Similarly if one of the above teams win, most often the other finish 2nd
o Teams in 3 and 4 positions are usually off the winners by a fair bit

As we can see, both leagues are ultimately 2 horse races, which can put to rest the theory of one league being more competitive than the other. Point totals are also similar and equally high, which goes on to show the top teams are significantly and equally better than bottom rung teams. Of course statistics don’t always tell the truth, but they point you towards the right directions.

When we look at the overall history of both the leagues, we observe that Real Madrid lead the Liga with 31 titles followed by Barcelona with 20 and Atletico Madrid with 9. In the English league Manchester United and Liverpool are tied at 18, followed by Arsenal at 13, whereas in the era of the Premier League Manchester United are miles ahead of the rest of the pack with 11 titles followed by Chelsea and Arsenal at 3 apiece. This again reiterates that one or two teams always dominate the league.

• Performances in Europe

Both these leagues almost always send 4 teams to the Champions league and 3-4 to the UEFA Cup/Europa League as well. I suppose, for a CL or EL campaign to be called successful, semi-finals can be set as a benchmark. Some more statistics follow about number of semi-finalists from each country and the eventual winners.

CL 10 1 ESP 0 ENG Int
CL 08 1 ESP 3 ENG Man

Cup 10 1 ESP 2 ENG Atm
Cup 09 0 ESP 0 ENG Shak
Cup 08 0 ESP 0 ENG Zen
Cup 07 3 ESP 0 ENG Sev
Cup 06 1 ESP 1 ENG Sev

While it is evident that in the Champions league, England sends more team regularly to semifinals, Spain has a better track record in the ultimate prize. When it comes to the second rung, clearly, Spain has the advantage with more victories, and semi-finalists. A conclusion is hard to reach because one cannot say one league is better with just these statistics

• Players and Awards

Another central point of argument is the quality of players in each league which statistically can be measured in Golden Boots, FIFA Player of the year, and the Ballon d’or. As for Golden Boot, La Liga has produced 5 and the Premier League 4 in the new format of the award. When it comes to the FIFA award, Real Madrid and Barcelona dominate with 4 and 7 respectively where as the only English entry is to Manchester United. Stats are similar in the Ballon d’or where Barcelona have 6, Real 5 and Manchester 4. This is the first time we can see one league that has a clear advantage over another. It is safe to assume the better players are from the Liga.

• Money Matters

Strength of any league financially is a good measure of how much a better a league is compared to another. This one clearly is in the favour of the EPL because of a much more stable structure where TV money is distributed in accordance to a predefined ratio, which ensures parity being ensured between top and bottom teams. La Liga allows teams to negotiate their own TV deals which creates imbalance at the top, which works against its favour with the view of maintaining equality and competition.

• Popularity

Again, I think the EPL is the clear winner here. Football is the religion in both countries where newspaper headlines are dominated by footballing matters, but where the EPL has scored points is in marketing the league as a brand to the rest of the world. Shifting the time of the matches in view of getting into the Asian primetime slot because of the potential financial benefits trumps the Liga in terms of popularity where most of the games are scheduled in EU night time which is the wee hours of the morning in Asia. I guess statistics are not necessary here.

• Intangibles

There are certain aspects of football you cannot measure. Bill Shankly famously said that football is much more than life and death. This is reiterated in La Liga. There is a certain romance to games which are not so in England. Football is a culture, more than just a sport. The connection between sporting history and political history is enough to say that it is more than life in that country. I somehow see this aspect lacking with England. Fans are equally passionate no doubt, but it is just not the same. Beauty is a subjective term, but it has been said time and time again that La Liga offers some of the most beautiful football in the world over the years. With a league full of talented Spaniards, Brazilians, and Argentines, this comes as no surprise. England on the other hand seems to have a much more tactical game, which has merits of its own, but surely can appear dull to the eye. In this regard, Liga has the upperhand in my opinion.

• The Verdict

I cannot think of more points to compare, so I guess I will leave it at that. It is clear that while each of the leagues have their own charms and advantages, it is difficult to come to a conclusion as to one being better than another. Liga is proclaimed to have the better history, EPL is said to be the hands down number one in the recent future, but with all said above, I will conclude by saying no one league is better than the other and all we can do is to enjoy the beautiful game and wait for this season to unfold.

Edit : A friend provided me with another article on similar lines, do take a look.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A-Z of World Cup 2010

This is quite a clichéd topic after every world cup in most newspapers and websites, but I decided to have a go at one on my own anyway. So here's the A-Z of this year's recently concluded spectacle that is the FIFA World Cup 2010

A for Africa : This was always going to be pitched as the Cup hosted by the entire continent, and it's fair to say that the hosts have exceeded expectation in terms of organising.

B for Blue : Blue was a bad colour for jerseys this year as giants like France and Italy crashed out infamously after the group stages putting their nations and footballing legacy to shame.

C for Casillas : San Iker will go down in history as the first captain to break Spain's curse of not winning the World Cup. Of course there was the small matter of the Golden Gloves.

D for Diego Forlan : Forlan wowed us with what Manchester United failed to see in him. This class act showed us some fantastic football capping it off with lots of brilliant goals.

E for Expectations : France,Italy,England,Brazil,Argentina. What was common to them in this World Cup is that none of their teams performed to the fans mighty expectations, which seemed to be the flavour of this tournament.

F for Flops : Flops again seemed to be the bug biting all big name players. Ronaldo, Messi, Kaka, Rooney were all bitten and put on quite a horrendous show.

G for Germany : If there was one team that deserved to win the tournament and didn't, It was the Die Mannschaft. Playing counter attacking football at levels we have not seen since the Brazilian teams of old, they gave us some amazing matches. This team is young and is bound to be around, and hungry for many years to come.

H for Handball : The world cup just seems to love Handball incidents. The Hand of God by Maradona paved way to a new tactic of using the hand to the benefit of the team. Suarez showed us all, a supposedly heroic sacrifice, with good presence of mind, taking his team past Ghana through to the Semi-Finals.

I for Injuries
: Most teams were not at their full strength thanks to injuries. Blame the long club season or lack of fitness or desire to come back ahead of recovery period, we were unlucky not to see some good players in action.

J for Jabulani : World Cup's always have controversial balls and this was no different. A Goalkeeper's nightmare, this ball showed us physics as never seen before.

K for Kung-fu : A term that became popular after Nigel De Jong's tackle on Xabi Alonso in the final, justified the way The Netherlands tackled throughout the whole tournament.

L for Larissa Riquelme : The Paraguay lingerie model created waves all across the world and made lots of men Paraguay fans as she promised to strip if they went all the way.

M for Maradona : The man who was the centre of all attention even with the Argentina team boasting of arguably the best player in the World. Only Maradona could have done it, and it is only a pity that his coaching career is not nearly as glamorous as his playing.

N for Nigeria
: Nigeria's FA gave us some humour by initially banning the national team from all competitions for the forthcoming two years as a punishment for their performance, which was later revoked after the firing of 3 top officials.

O for Oranje : Once again, the Oranje made it to the finals, and once again they would not win. I personally felt this was a good thing because the way they played would not do justice to the great Netherlands teams of the past, if they did better.

P for Paul : The most valuable person of the tournament would end up being the Psychic Octopus Paul who got the predictions right for all of Germany's matches and the finals. He has now become a betters’ favourite and German enemy number 1. Rumour has it that he has retired from his newfound profession.

Q for Questions : Some questions will never be answered. Was he offside? Did the ball cross the line? Were the FIFA officials right with that decision? Expectedly, this world cup was full of such Questions.

R for Referees : The refereeing this tournament was clearly sub-par. Barring a few excellent performances, most Referees, and linesmen made some rather horrible calls. Time for Video Technology.

S for Spain : Spain has at long last won a World Cup. The team always full of talent, and years of lack of unity due to regionalism and other reasons finally delivered with what is not becoming known as the Golden Generation of Spanish Football.

T for Tiki-Taka : The Spanish (Catalan) word for touch football used by Spain(Barcelona) has evolved into the new(boring) style of possession football and ended up winning the tournament(It was Villa!)

U for Uruguay : If everyone were to bet which South American team would qualify for the semis, nobody would have predicted Uruguay. Yet this bunch of no nonsense footballers, led by some spectacular goals by Forlan and Suarez did their country proud.

V for Vuvuzela : Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. 'nuff said.

W for Waka-Waka : The jumpy number from the ever sizzling hot Shakira became the anthem for this World Cup with every Tom-Dick-Harry addicted to it, including my 3 year old cousin.

X for Xavi-Xabi : The X-Men (Ok, that was bad) were a solid centre of midfield pairing carefully picking out passes, became one of the hardest duo's to play against.

Y for Young Players
: Every World Cup produces some fine young players, and this one no different. Germany being the most impressive with their youth gave us some fantastic promise in players like Ozeil, Mueller et al.

Z for Zuma
: I was running out of creative thoughts, and thought I had to do justice to South Africa being such great hosts for this spectacle. The guy may be really boring with speeches but heads a country the loves football, which is now loved by the footballing world.

I hope that puts in a nutshell what this World Cup was about. Let me know your views, or if I've forgotten any important thing. Joga Bonito!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Yearbook Entry : Basketball Diary

Chapter 1: The Beginning

When I first came to this college, I didn’t think much of my chances of getting to play quality ball. Quite frankly, nobody expects an NIT, to have a basketball team worthy of any praise. I would realise I was wrong, the moment I stepped into court on my first day. There were 4 other guys on court. As it would turn out, we were the golden batch in NITK Basketball, in more ways than one. For the first time in NITK’s recollectable history, 5 guys from the same batch would have to join the team. Alok brought his Karnataka State Captain experience along with his superb ball handling skills. Nitin brought a style element and a work ethic unrivalled by anyone. Sharan, Abhishek and I, brought to the team technique and determination that the rest of NITK was very happy to see. The Basketball team is once place where ‘jugaad’ does not exist. If you’re good, you’re in – That’s the mantra which is followed. It was safe to say a few seniors were disappointed that 5 of us had joined. But the true ballers knew that NITK Basketball was going to change, and for good.

The time had come for me to experience my first tournament. MBC is a Mangalorean Club that hosted a couple of tournaments every year. They have a sleek indoor court, with wooden flooring, shot-clocks and what not. It was quite an intimidating fact for a bunch of first years. We were told that we had not beaten MBC in this tournament ever before. This was also going to be the first time we would see our talisman Hardeep in action. Along with Bogie, Ham and Krum, Alok was the only first year who was chosen to play in the match. The finals was close, and Hardeep hit an amazing buzzer beater 3-pointer, to send the DK district into a state of shock. NITK finally had a recipe to create a successful basketball team. This victory qualified us to represent the district in a tournament in Mysore, my first out-station trip with the team. Planet X, Bopi’s Beer Bar, Old Mylari Butter Masala Dosa, were the highlights of this trip, more than the tournament itself.

Chapter 2 : First Time, Big Time

The team was chosen to represent us at the Inter NIT Games in Rourkela. Nobody knew what to expect from the other NITs. Would they be a bunch of nerds? Would they have random tall built guys who could dunk? We would find out that only Trichy had a team that they thought could beat us and we blew them out by 30 points. Highlights of the trip : Annapurna breakfast, Bogie’s admit and the never ending supply of spirit, and card games. Once we returned it was time for Inci. Now, for the basketball team, Inci is a World Cup of sorts. Playing in front of the NITK crowd is like being in a pressure cooker. Every shot you make pumps you up with 300 people applauding, but then every shot you miss is greeted with a seemingly larger number sighing ‘Ohhh’. The best of Bangalore teams turn up, and it is almost as if we have a point to prove to them that we can play in the big league. We would go on to lose to Christ, the eventual winners, in the semi-finals. Inter-Year was for the first time won by first year, who against all odds defeated the favoured third years, and the unbeatable Final years, much to the surprise and delight of college crowd. We would wrap up first year with the traditional Basketball farewell at Malpe Beach, where you get wasted without second thoughts. The final years would leave on a high note, with Krum going to Amdocs, Ham to Accenture, Brat to IIM Bangalore, NJ to Trilogy, and Bogie setting the benchmark at UC Berkley.

Chapter 3: Let’s rag ‘Em Juniors

We had finally become seniors on the team. One year after bearing the brunt of ragging and other silly chores that we had to do, just because we were the youngest, the time had finally come for the next batch of first years to feel the wrath. There were lots of players who came into this batch as well. Ewin and Nashath would make it directly into the starting 5 thanks to their sheer determination and size. Appi, Nikki, and Ravi would join the team in the following year. Our team finally looked like a strong unit. It was a team that we thought could even take on the Bangalore powerhouses. MBC and other local teams were dismantled with such ease that you would wonder, ‘Was this the team we once used to lose to?’ We decided to push things up one level by taking part in the RV tournament. After a comfortable 20 point win in the first game, we were all ready to play Ramaiah in the next. Ramaiah were perennial powerhouses in the Bangalore circuit. We knew it was not going to be easy, but we thought with this team, we should be beating them. 40 minutes later, we would fall right back down to earth. 15 point loss. More than the score, it was the way we played, we weren’t ready for the big time yet. Work had to be done, and quick, before Inci.

Chapter 4: Redemption

The Ramaiah loss hit us hard. We realised things had to change if we were to do anything useful in Inci. Practise intensity doubled, team bonding tripled. They say tragedy brings people together, this was the first time the team started to feel like a family. We wanted to work hard together. We wanted to win together. We wanted to push each other to make sure we achieve success. Just prior to Inci, we won another local tournament held by MBC very comfortably, which gave us some confidence. We had made the fixtures in such a way that we would meet Ramaiah in the semi-finals and that could be our redeem game. Unfortunately, Ramaiah ended up losing to Baldwin. Now the frightening part of this was Baldwin comprised of 5 African giants, all of whom were at least 6 foot tall, and built like ox. Scary as it seemed, a valiant effort from our side, we lost a humdinger of a game by 1 point. Once again our dreams were shattered at the semi-final stage, in the cruellest of fashions. But a statement was made. Teams came and congratulated us on the way we played defence. We were now considered worthy opponents. But the dream was still a dream.Yet another Malpe treat worth remembering, although our senses wouldn’t allow us to, and second year was wrapped up. Hardeep got himself a job at GE. Navin, Jeff, and G went to Carnegie Mellon, Boston and Georgia Tech respectively, maintaining the stud image of the team.

Chapter 5: Coping up

The beginning of the year was swarmed with comments from fellow college mates, other teams, referees, almost everyone connected to NITK Basketball you can think of, that we could not be the same team that we were without Hardeep. We all knew he was our star player, but we also knew, what the others didn’t, that we can be just as good, if not better without him. This served as motivation that year. Vind and Shank joined us, bringing a new dynamic to the team. MBC tournaments were swept once again with ease as people in the DK district were getting ready kill to see us lose. Yet again, we decided to step our schedule up one notch by taking part in another Bangalore tournament. As fate would have it, we had to play Ramaiah first up. We had a point to prove, more than that, we had a score to settle. A superb team game hence, we emerged victorious. People in Bangalore thought it was a fluke. We knew it was meant to happen, it just took one year more than it should have. This was by far the most meaningful and thrilling victory we had had. We now knew, there is no looking back, and up, is the only way to go.

Chapter 6 : Trophies, Trophies and More Trophies

The sem started out with Inter NIT which was held this time in Warangal. I have never witnessed our team performing a better demolition act than at this tournament. We owned each team by at least 30 points, distinguishing us as the clear winners. Our egos were well massaged when we would see teams clearing the court when we entered, teams giving us standing ovations when we entered the mess, and other acts of the same ilk. Highlights of this trip would be – Nikki’s traffic control after smash session, Bhimsingh’s downing skills, and Chennai stopovers. Yet another MBC tournament was won comfortably. We were set up for a grand Inci, which we hoped would finally be the one. The demolition continued, as we not only beat the Bangalore teams, but tore a couple of them apart, so much so that we won our semi-finals, which seemed like a perennial hurdle, by 20 points against RNS, which had just beaten Ramaiah. NITK had arrived at the big stage, but the crown was still missing. Jain outplayed us in the finals, not by better basketball, not by bigger hearts, just by pure experience. Our Cinderella run ended, but we were happy with the way we performed. Our year ended with another tournament win at Yenapoya. We had captured 5 Winners trophies and 2 Runners up trophies. This was by far the most successful year for NITK Basketball. A bigger year, called for a bigger celebration at Malpe, with everyone living up to prior standards, making wine shop owners very happy. Sam would go on to Georgia Tech, BD to North Carolina and Camel would make the trip to IIM Calcutta.

Chapter 7: The Beginning of The End

Everything that is associated with NITK peaks during Final year. For us though, it was a little crooked. The batch, being worst hit by recession, suffered during placements. GRE and CAT givers also had a slightly tough time, hence bringing a sort of irregularity towards practise. Few were beginning to wonder if we had peaked last year and the only way to go was down. Doubts were starting to creep in among ourselves too. We tried to convince ourselves that that was not the case, and we were still the same hungry team that wants to win Inci. An extended rainy season resulted in not much practise, and some unrest between players. The lack of tournaments didn’t help much either. We hosted another tournament this year, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the institution. A confidence boosting win in front of home crowd is always welcome. Thus ended a relatively drab penultimate sem, with all leading up to the last one.

Chapter 8: The Swansong

The final sem started on a good note with placements, and admits coming the team members’ way. Inter NIT victory at Surat would follow, reinstating our dominance at the NIT level. Nitin got his second successive MVP at Inter NITs. Highlights of the trip included Bombay Thanni, Sasumaa Gujarati Thali, The forgetting of Swami incident and our epic journey from Bombay to Surat in the general compartment. A couple of months of heavy practise was required to reach optimum levels for Inci. Prior to Inci, we had a confidence building win at KMC Mangalore, where a couple of differences in the team were settled, to show the emergence of the complete team game. Organisers almost always gave away best player awards to the losing opponents, because each player in our team would have scored the same amount of points. The final Inci had arrived. Bigger than the prior editions, this one witnessed some really close matches and a superb exhibition of stylish basketball. There were a couple of annoying incidents, but what’s an Inci without a controversy? We sailed through the group stages to reach the semi final against Josephs. Josephs were one of the co-favourites to lift the title. We knew we had to bring our A game to the court, and by god we did. The entire team played at a level we ourselves did not know we could reach. To take such a team to overtime is no mere task. We would eventually go on to lose by 3 in OT, but we went out with our heads held high. This was our last chance to win Inci, as the outgoing batch. It is nagging when college randoms ask you why we never win our home tournament, but how we perform above our expectations and limits year after year and give it our best, is difficult to explain in words. The year ended with a victory at the Manipal tourney, one that had eluded us the first 3 years. Not only was that fact special, but also the way it was achieved, a stroke of genius from Alok and a lot of luck is the only thing that could have saved a hungover team from losing the finals at 7 in the morning. As I write this, I am wondering how my last Malpe will be, because this time it will be the others bidding farewell to us, something I don’t want to happen as soon as it seems to be happening. Resigning to the fact that all good things come to an end, I would always look back to my days with the basketball team of NITK, where teammates turned to friends, and friends in turn became brothers. This team shaped us to what we are in this college and it would only be appropriate if I said that We may not be a part of this team anymore, but the team will always be a part of us.

Batch of 2010

Alok Shankar
Nitin Chandra
Abhishek Premkumar
Sharan Basavaraj
Kaushik Lakshman(author)