The most popular game in the world is soccer as it is known in the US; the rest of the world calls it football and some stick to its original spelling futbal. I enjoy watching the matches in the English Premier League (EPL), mainly in a contest where Manchester United is playing. This is the team where I find fine and subtle artistry at work; short passes, accurate crosses, stock sturdy defense, excellent understanding, unselfish attitudes and hunger to score goals. And not to forget, the towering personality of its coach Sir Alex Ferguson, hovering and gesticulating. Then there is Lionel Messy (Argentina and Barcelona) an unmatched class! Every time the ball is with him the spectators including me fall into raptures and delight with his speed and maneuvering. He cuts into the opponent’s defense like the proverbial knife slicing through butter. Wah! Messi!

The Americans call it ’soccer’ owing perhaps to their vast ignorance of what goes on outside their national boundaries and the misnomer which has them thinking it a corruption of rugby and that is it how it is played by them! And yet they call their own game ‘football’ (NFL?)! In their football the ball is footed only to get rid of it! For most of the game, the ball is held by the player close to his chest as a very precious jewel, more precious than even the Almighty to whom he continuously prays, when fleeing to avoid his opponents before reaching to deposit it in their home! During such runs the ball normally gets snatched through bone breaking tackles, flying jumps and finally by joint effort of opponent’s men to keep the player and the ball pinned under their bodies to prevent him to move and even breathe. As a wisecrack quips, ‘it is a four hour Commercial, with some occasional ‘football’ in between and only with all the danger and most of the ‘skill’ removed can it also be called ‘footbal’!

Nearer home, soccer is for those who have not heard of Wisden, Lords, Chepauk and so on. Unlike many renowned cricket luminaries the soccer fans have to contend with only Baichang Bhutia! We have we never qualified for the Football World Cup and the future does looks bleak.

But then Soccer is played day in and out here, especially during the prime time in the evenings. There is   a virtual soccer league entertaining the viewers with ‘football’ with all the skill and dexterity! I prefer to call it the ‘Indian Soccer League’ (ISL) for want of a better title. Unlike normal soccer, the ISL uses the TV studios as its playing field. Each channel has players drawn from all walks of life, well versed in the nuances and intricacies of the game they play. You have the aggressive and vociferous goal scorers playing in various positions, left, right and center. Then there are the defenders who never allow the ball to pierce their barriers at any cost, fair or foul and finally the goal keeper(the anchor) who has the onerous task of preventing the ball to enter the goals of either side. The goal keeper tosses the ball, very often to the wrong side and the ball gets stuck mid field where we witness a free for all. We the spectators are to refer the match and some of us do it by the press of the remote button while some sigh, fret or fume but to no avail; the whistle is alaways with the goal keeper! Every day a large number of  goals are scored, to be fair, in some cases winning ones that matter, but predominantly the matches fizzle out leaving the audiences either bemused, clue less or fretting.

Everyone of us has a chosen team(channel), I for one like the team having a goal keeper who not only catches the ball but kicks or throws it to the players so aggressively that the hurt is visible prominently not on their bodies but in their very countenance and personality. They are made to appear as nincompoops, who in the first place should not have existed! It is this keeper who often times turns into a Messi and draws circles around the players, tiring and forcing them into submission or recalcitrant. I often wonder why not the players stay away from him; I sincerely hope that they do not; I will miss all the fun!

Then I suppose it all boils down to the ratings (TRP’s) and the revenue generated! The crasser, aggressive and more recently the abusive manner a match is played, invites larger viewer ship. Like the IPL, the ISL will remain successful; rest is damned!