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John sets up media room for FIFA

Bollywood’s top football enthusiast lets us in on the players he’s rooting for, and teams most likely to pick up the World Cup that kickstarts this Friday. Read on for details.

entertainment Updated: Jun 16, 2010 12:17 IST
Rachana Dubey

John AbrahamAsk him what his plans are for the FIFA World Cup that starts on June 10, and he says, "Preparations are on, on a war footing, to set up a full-fledged media roo, complete with speakers, surround sound, a plasma screen and of course, plenty of space to lounge around, at home. I intend to catch as many of the matches as possible from South Africa and I want to be as comfortable as can be while I watch Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Kaka play ball. I can’t wait."

Committed
John Abraham who has just returned from the shoot of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Saat Khoon Maaf, admits that he has plans to be at the FIFA World Cup finals Johannesburg on July 11. “Of course, it would eventually depend on my schedule. If I don’t have a prior commitment waiting to hold me back that week, I will most certainly be in South Africa to catch the action ‘live’,” asserts Abraham.

You wonder why the actor, who is the brand ambassador for FIFA, will not be at the opening match at Johannesburg? “I’d wanted to be there but I can’t shy away from my professional commitments. My dates around the opening ceremony were blocked with meetings and other obligations that will keep me confined of this city. I’m cool as long as I get to catch all the matches in my luxurious media room at home,” smiles Abraham.

Will he be inviting colleagues over to keep him company? “My father is the one I want to keep me company when I’m watching football. He was the one who got me hooked on to the game when I was a child. So, this year, I’d want to catch the best matches with him,” asserts the actor.

‘My dad would wake me up to watch the World Cup matches early morning’

You say that your father, Abraham, was the one who got you hooked on to football.
Yeah, normally, you’d find parents putting kids off to bed early. But my dad would either keep me awake or would wake me up to watch the World Cup matches early morning. I started watching football on TV a little before Diego Maradona worked his magic on the field. I went on to captain my school and college teams. I even played for the state.

Why did you quit?
Thanks to the honourable system. I was given a choice between continuing with my studies and making a career of my passion. Given the times then, I opted to appear for the common entrance test for MBA. I cleared it and drifted into higher education. Today, if I could turn back the clock, I’d want to be a sportsperson. Not an MBA, a model or even an actor. If you have your heart in sports, I’d advise you not to follow your mind into another profession.

What were your pluses as a footballer?
I was a good dribbler and sprinter. (Smiles) Speed and skill are a lethal combo. Even after I moved to MBA and later became a model and an actor, I continued to follow the game since it’s a great leveller. It teaches you to accept victory.. and defeat gracefully. It never lets your ego bloat. A sport can make you into a hero even before you become one on screen.

Who were your role models when you were captaining your school and college side?
The great Pele, everyone who played football worshipped him. But when it came to antics, or for that matter sheer greatness, it was always Diego Maradona. I love him, he’s so cute.

Maradona has announced that he’ll dance on the streets of Argentina naked if his team brings the cup home.
Yeah, that will be a sight. Unfortunately, work may not permit me to go to Buenos Aires and watch him perform ‘live’. But I’m not going miss that performance. I’ll be glued to my TV screen if it happens.

Do you find time to play today?
Of course, but I won’t be playing till the World Cup is over. I don’t want to miss any of the matches. But I’d advise anyone who loves the game not to wait till the ideal time to enter the field. You have to steal time from meetings to follow your passion. My passions are football and biking and I always make time for them. (Smiles) Actually, every sport is a big draw with me.

Apparently, you’re planning an initiative to bring football and biking on the same platform.
Yes, that’s the plan. But I still have a couple of details to lock before I can officially announce the project.

Director-choreographer Ahmed Khan had wanted to make a football film with you but after Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal, he changed his mind?
I’m not aware of any football movie that Ahmed had planned with me. I did Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal because I know the game well. It showed in the way we played in the movie. The only reason that a lot of people didn’t connect with the film was the setting. If it had been some place in India, may be even Goa, instead of Southall, the film might have worked better.

Recommend a sporty film worth a watch this weekend.
(After a thoughtful pause) Hmm, there are so many of them. Any Given Sunday for one, also that great classic, Escape To Victory. Oh, how could I forget, Remember The Time too.

Why do you think there is so little awareness about football in India?
I’d blame the bureaucracy for that. If we could somehow eliminate some of the middlemen, the game will get its due attention. We need a cleaner system in place. Once that happens, we wouldn’t have just one Baichung Bhutia in the country. There would be a Baichung in every galli of India.

John’s FIFA favs

The teams
Traditionally, India is known to root for Brazil and Argentina. This is something that I have observed through my childhood, while I was pursuing the sport at school, college and even the state level.

For me personally, the list also includes Spain. I think this is a side with great potential this year. And Holland and England are the underdogs. I’m specially mentioning Spain because if the team can maintain its current momentum, I’m sure it be one of the top contenders for the Cup. I’d rather reserve my comments on the remaining teams for now.

The players
Lionnel Messi (Argentina)
He’s currently the best footballer in the world. He plays for the national team of Argentina and also the super club, Barcelona. His style of play and the magic he can wield on the field is reminiscent of his current coach Diego Maradona.

By the time he turned 22, Messi had won the Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player Of The Year awards. That alone speaks for this player’s ability.

Kaka (Brazil)
Ricardo Izecson Dos Santos Leite is better known as Kaka. Don’t ask me why. He plays for Real Madrid CF and of course, he’s a midfielder in Brazil’s national team. At 28, he’s really popular with youngsters. I remember his goal at the 2006 World Cup. He got the Man Of The Match award.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
At 25, this Portuguese footballer who plays for the Spanish club Real Madrid, is the captain of his national team. A lot of people would remember him as the most expensive player after his transfer from Manchester United to his current club.

On Kareena Kapoor’s initiative for the FIFA World Cup
I don’t know what the deal is with her but I’m told that Kareena (Kapoor) is also associated with FIFA and is doing something for underprivileged kids. I really appreciate the gesture and wish her all the best for her initiative.

There are not too many who would go out of the way to do something like this for football. I hope her initiative sets an example for many.