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             Volume 10 |Issue 35 | September 16, 2011 |


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The Magic of Messi


Despite the fact that this was a match between Argentina and Nigeria, there was little doubt that this was pretty much the Messi show.

A love affair that began on a warm June night some 25 years ago was finally consummated on an equally warm September evening in 2011 as the best football player on the planet strutted his stuff on the newly-laid turf of the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka. The journey has been long and winding, mostly thankless, but after five World Cups spent dressing itself in their adopted colours of blue and white, Bangladesh finally bought Messi 'home'.

The Argentine sensation did not disappoint.

The true heir to Maradona was perhaps made aware of the amount of money many souls had paid to watch him play and on every occasion, Messi tried his best to entertain the crowd. There were the silky touches, the ghostly movements and the moments of pure inspiration, such as on the second goal where he stole the ball from the Nigerian captain John Obi Mikel before leaving four other players in his dust and shooting at goal. He did not score but at the end of an evening which came with a hefty price-tag, no one at the stadium was left disappointed.

Despite the fact that this was a match between Nigeria and Argentina, there was little doubt to everyone that this was pretty much the Messi show. Everyone else was just along for the ride. So phenomenal was the interest on the tiny Argentine that at times it felt that there was only a single player on the pitch.

Even Nigeria captain Mikel picked up on it. The Chelsea star also enjoys some popularity in these parts but at the post match press-conference, the Nigerian said that at times it felt like there was one team or one player. “We did not hear much cheer when we were attacking,” said Mikel.

Lionel Messi

Indeed when the Messi show rolled into town there was hardly time for anything else for football fans and even the general public seemed to be swayed more by the Argentinean than the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

But despite the level of interest that dominated his arrival and his time spent here, there is the lingering feeling that the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) and Beximco group, the chief sponsors of the event missed out on a great opportunity to market the event better.

The first put-off was probably the steep ticket prices.

At 7500 Taka ($100) for the cheapest ticket, the event immediately priced out the hard-core football fans who visit the stadium even for the doldrums of the Bangladesh League. What it meant was that the stadium was mostly populated by the celebrity hanger-ons, i.e, people who have only a fleeting interest in the game but were economically able to trump up the amount necessary for a chance to just tell people that they were there.

For a contrast, the match at Kolkata that preceded the encounter at Dhaka, set a minimum of 700Rs (TK 1300) for a ticket. Suffice to say that at those rates the Bangabandhu National Stadium could have been filled twice over instead of struggling to fill up the empty seats on the day before the game.

It seemed that the powers-that-be had embarked on a move to collect as much money as possible through ticket sales to trade-off the steep amounts paid to bring Argentina here. The truth however is that most of football's money now comes from lucrative TV-rights, which in this case was given to Independent TV, a subsidiary of Beximco, by default, hence preventing the BFF the chance of doing an open market bidding. In contrast, numerous reports state that the Indians earned upwards of 4 million dollars by selling the TV rights to different broadcasters across the world.

Finally there is the question of what exactly does this Argentina visit do for Bangladesh football?

People will be talking about this Messi game for a long time to come. Photos: amran hossain

The answer to which is that it obviously encourages a lot of younger players to take up the sport and it also showcases Bangladesh as a viable destination for future internationals. The second facet was slightly tempered due to the fact that direct international telecasts was strikingly limited to the country's participating, but nonetheless, as BFF president Kazi Salahuddin was quick to point out: telecasting is not the only means of getting your ability to host a team across.

In any case, one thing that has been achieved is that people will be talking about this Messi game for a long time and through this football finally managed to garner the much sought after front page coverage. However, the fear is that once Messi has left things will go back to their usual state, i.e, little or no coverage of Bangladesh football or the Bangladesh League.

And it is easy to see why. Over the years it has been tough to attract the audience for football in Bangladesh, as had been almost the wont in the 1980s. Young kids can recite the names of entire squads of their European club of choice but ask them to name the teams that participate in the Bangladesh League and they will be stumped. Much has been made of poor marketing and infrastructure but ultimately there is a distinct lack of quality that is the one thing that generally attracts fans.

This means that football in the country is trapped in a form of vicious cycle. So how can the Messi match help to find a way out of this?

Well if the organisers and Kazi Salahuddin is to be believed than this game can provide the right push to the BFF and the other stakeholders to promote the game and thereby bring in the right sponsors who can help bring the game up from the grassroots.

And while matches like this can provide a nice distraction, it should not stop BFF from realising that ultimate goal.


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