By the time you read this, a diminutive Argentinian with a pair of humming bird wings attached to his ankles will have helped Spanish football club Barcelona lift its fourth Champions League trophy. Or not. Either way, Lionel Messi from Rosario in Argentina should have made hordes of folks in the Spanish city of Barcelona — and millions more across the world — rejoice in the innate relationship between a human and the air around him on a field.
A couple of hours before we got to know the outcome of who throttled whom in the Barcelona-Manchester United match at Wembley Stadium, approximately 8,219 kilometres away at Chennai's Chidambaram Stadium, one of two cricket clubs lifted the Indian Premier League 2011 trophy. There was no smell of 'Chak de India!' or 'Go Team India!' here. Loyalties on either side lay firmly outside the sturdy 'national' grid.
But can a sportsman be loyal to two sides — a club team and a national team — at the same time? The Board of Controlfreakery for Cricket in India — the quango of fat cats who decide on the annual IPL tournament as well as international tours of the national side — seems to think so. Except, that is, when they screw things up by not including that fine print in the contract written in blood about what happens if a player is injured or 'fatigued' in an IPL tournament prior to a 'Jana Gana Mana' tour.
In the mind (sic) of the BCCI, a cricketer can play reams of Twenty20 cricket, be packed off to tour with Team India immediately after an IPL tournament that takes place immediately after a ICC cricket World Cup, eat copious samosas with enough time to pick up basic flamenco and then attend a television channel function when he's not snogging in the corner at an after-match party. If the player is somehow injured, the fat cats suddenly start howling if the player becomes unavailable to represent the nation.
Gautam Gambhir, seen as having a chip on his elbow, chose to play in the IPL (surely a less taxing form of cricket than 50-over ODIs?) and then had to skip India's tour that starts next week of the West Indies — a place where stadiums have been filled for some time now with very little but balmy Caribbean air. Which is when the caterwauling started about the primacy of playing for the country over playing for a club.
Why on earth should playing for the country be more important than playing for a club? Gambhir went out of his way to say that it was "ridiculous" that he preferred club over country. In any case, his shoulder was injured well before the IPL started. Should he have not played in the World Cup?
But why the pall of shame if someone does choose club over country? Bal Thackeray's statement about Sachin Tendulkar playing "not so much for the country but for money" didn't disturb a gnat — not because what he said was false (or true), but because it doesn't matter what makes Tendulkar a 'Sachin' on the field as long as he is 'Sachin' on the field.
Which brings me back to Messi. Something happens when Messi runs in a Barcelona jersey. Is it because of his long association with Barca (which picked him up when he was 13) that Messi transforms into something that he isn't when he plays for Argentina? The familiarity with teammates he's been playing with for so long? A stronger, tighter identity that overpowers the glue of Argentinian nationalism? The euros over the pesos? A combination of these things?
Whatever it is, those still munching on about the Country vs Club non-debate, should have just watched the Argentine in the No. 10 Barcelona shirt. Regardless of last night's final scoreline.