India Might Teach the World a Few Lessons in Football

Michelle AlvesSenior Writer INovember 15, 2008

We all look up to stars like David Beckham and Zidane and aspire to be like them. Wealthy, popular, and everything that comes with it.

Is that wrong?


There are times where such players teach you nothing... 

You don’t have to be rich to be great. You don’t have to earn £30 million just to prove that you are successful. What’s the world come to, letting a series of numbers in your bank account prove how talented you are?

India’s former captain, a part of the first-ever Indian football team on an overseas tour, a hard-hitting, skilled player and the one and only Asian footballer ever to be named among the best 10 captains in the world, by the English Football Association.

Now declared one of the footballers of the Century by the All-India Football Federation, Sailendra Nath Manna aka Sailen Manna, is a true legend in the history of Indian football.

Born in 1924, he started playing football at the age of 14. The second club he played for turned out to be the opening point of his career, Mohun Bagan, where he played for 19 years.

Manna led India to become Asia’s top team, inspiring more wins than ever. He captained Mohun Bagan and helped them win the Durand Cup three times in a row, with a total win of six in his career. 

Times weren’t good for football in Manna’s days, not only had he to play with bare feet but during his 19 years career in Mohun Bagan, he allegedly earned only Rs.19—less than 1 USD.

In 1950, the Indian team had to miss the World Cup as they didn’t know that playing bare feet wasn’t allowed.   

Not for money, not for fame but for the love of the game, is what Manna played for and his success showed in his records.

Six Durand Cups, 10 times winner of the Calcutta League as a Captain for Mohun Bagan, two Rover Cups, he led India to four successive titles in the South East Asian quadrangular meet The Padma Shri Awards (A prestigious award given by the Indian Government), he also led India to win the Gold Medal in the 1951 Asian Games.

Never one to strive for richness, Manna lives to see Indian football shine, like many others. As a player, he did not take money from his club, he was happy with the salary he got from his employer and played out of passion and loyalty for his team.

For people who talk about India not being successful due to the lack of money, here is a correction. If Manna could lead 11 boys to see the Asian World Cup in bare feet, why can’t we produce a World Cup team with training grounds, proper kits and (although not that great) some income?

African nations have managed to qualify for to the World Cup stages, look at what exactly is holding us back?

Many footballers’ today seem to be led astray by the lure of money and fame, but in India, "football" still remains the reason why youngsters play. Of course, everyone wants to be rich and famous, but they know that most of India’s wealth is invested in cricket.

Yet, if you pass by a car park or an usually empty street in India, you’ll see a number of small boys, in bare feet, wearing worn out "Beckham" or "Zidane" shirts running around kicking the ball as if it was the most important thing in the world.

They don’t have goal posts, they use stones to mark posts and yet it is more beautiful than any professional field that you will ever see.

Maybe we should learn a lesson or two from India. We called them a third world, we think about how poor it is, yet we know about India’s richness in culture. What we should know is about the richness in passion and team spirit. 

In watching them play you learn so many little lessons that have a huge impact on your life.  You see children of all ages and sizes come from homes barely worth living in, where food is scarce and survival is the key, we think "Oh, how sad."

They don’t though. No they don’t.

Give them a football and see their eyes light up, the same way most current EPL footballers would at the sight of a cheque worth a million dollars. Can you imagine feeling like you’ve won a million dollars just because you get to play football?

I didn’t think so. That’s why we need to learn from them.

That’s how we’re going to make a difference, that’s how we’re going to bring back what football once was.

Let these kids, show us the meaning of "football".