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A chance encounter with the Prince

As the 15th edition approaches, HT recalls a meeting with Uruguayan legend Enzo Francescoli, the star of the inaugural edition. Rohit Bhaskar reports.

sports Updated: Aug 21, 2012 01:56 IST
Rohit Bhaskar

.The man whose football wizardry, legend has it, inspired a young Zinedine Zidane to give up a fledgling career in Pétanque, a French pastime where the aim is to roll a number of hollow steel balls (boules) as close as possible to a small wooden target ball called cochonnet (French for piglet), and give football a try is standing next to you. A mix of books, blogs and YouTube make you believe you are ready to face the situation with consummate ease, and then, suddenly you are stymied by a vital piece of overlooked trivia — India was the place where he made his international debut! Know Enzo

Right place, right time

The setting seemed about right; the Soccer City Stadium in Soweto, a suburb south of Johannesburg, where Argentina was facing South Korea in a Group B match. The design of the stadium is inspired from the Calabash, a traditional African cooking pot, and while entering the 86,000-capacity stadium you see a mosaic of fire and earthen colours with a http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/8/21_08_12-metro17.jpgring of lights running around the bottom of the structure, simulating fire underneath the pot. The inside of the stadium, the media zone to be precise, was a melting pot of a different kind, as a host of football legends from across the globe clutching their microphones or jotting down points in their notepads.

Chilean goal-machine Ivan Zamarano was there, dapper in a suit, providing colour commentary for a South American broadcaster. So, were Premier League club managers, David Moyes and Mick McCarthy. Brazilian legend from the famed 1970 team Tostao was also present. But, the man in question, was Enzo Francescoli.

The Uruguayan football star from the 1980s and early 90s was providing commentary for an Argentine network.

His one-time rival for South American player of the year trophies, Diego Maradona, was in the Argentine dugout. The Koreans put up a good fight, up to the hour-mark, before Gonzalo Higuain stamped his class with a clinical hat-trick to seal a 4-1 victory. After the post-match events drew to a close one ran into Francescoli, just as he was exiting the venue. One went up, with a first question already in mind, something about how he felt when Zizou named his son Enzo in the Uruguayan’s honour.

Tables turned
Of course, all such plans were thrown out the window as soon as the conversation began. “Where are you from,” he enquired. “India,” one replied.
“I went there a long time ago. That’s where I made my debut, in the Nehru Cup in ‘82,” he said. Before one could assess the situation, the tables had been turned. The questioner had become the questioned. “How is Calcutta? That’s where the Nehru Cup was held. It was a very vibrant city. How is it now?”
Having been to Kolkata just once, that too on a quick splash-and-dash, one’s responses were limited to a careful routine of nodding and repeating “it’s all good”.
“I remember Market Street, that place was full of life, it had energy,” he reminisced, and then proceeded to name landmark after landmark.
The conversation pretty soon turned to football, to the Superclásico (the derby between Argentine clubs River Plate and Boca Juniors, for the uninitiated), his illustrious rival El Diego, his time at Olympique Marseille and that old Uruguayan trait that saw the tiny nation became the first masters of football, Garra.

The realisation
As the 2012 Nehru Cup gets underway, the above incident serves as a timely reminder to keep the eyes and ears open. None of players from the five competing nations may be household names yet, but someday they could be interviewing you about your own country at the Fifa World Cup! Know Enzo