Far away from Buenos Aires, tucked in a busy pocket of South Kolkata, the Argentina Football Fan Club members are now busy reciting their common prayers: “Let Lionel Messi do a Sachin Tendulkar”.
The reference is to Indian cricket’s little master winning the World Cup towards the end of his career.
It’s all a ‘Messi affair’ at the club now. Its premises in Ganguly Bagan are draped in the posters of the Argentine soccer wizard, with plans afoot to make small statues of the icon and other team’s star players designed as if all of them are trying to pull him down.
“Like Sachin won the World Cup towards the end of his career (2011), when he had achieved everything, I have a strong feeling Messi will go the same way,” gushes club founder secretary Uttam Saha, a 56 year old businessman.
Since 1978, when Argentina lifted the World Cup for the first time, Saha has made the team “amra (we)” and Diego Maradona his demigod.
He is the driving force behind the club established in 2002. It now has 786 members on its roll, including overseas enthusiasts, and organises a series of programmes through the year to mark occasions like the birthdays of Maradona and Messi.
“Messi has inspired me since 2006 World Cup like Maradona did, in a bigger way in 1982,” Saha tells IANS at his club premises, ahead of the 2018 Russia World Cup where Messi, 30, will have a chance to guide La Albiceleste to their first crown since Maradona did 32 years ago.
Saha boasts that the Argentina Fan Club here is the biggest in India.
“Google the name of our club, and you will find most of our pictures and club’s events. Besides Argentina, nowhere in the world will you see such fervour,” he says.
Saha says he has watched 27 Messi matches both for FC Barcelona (Messi’s club) and Argentina.
“The most memorable was the 2011 Champions League final (Barcelona beat Manchester United 3-1) at the Wembley Stadium.”
This time too, he will be leaving for Russia on June 28 for the knockout games, and watch seven matches.
.” I have planned my tickets in such a manner that I will be there in all of Argentina’s matches if they go all the way,” says Saha, who painted his Fiat Palio in the sky-blue and white of Argentina’s national flag four years back.
But like all true blue Argentina fans, Saha hates the team’s bitter South American rivals Brazil. So much so, that he did not go for the Rio Olympics.
“I have been to every sporting event. I had the chance to go to Rio Olympics but did not go because it was (in) Brazil,” he says.
In 2014, when Argentina lost to Germany in the summit clash at Brazil’s Maracana stadium, Saha was crestfallen. He blames the venue, again Brazil, for that, letting his dislike for the team and country get the better of him.
In the club, the members set up statues and order giant cakes to mark every football event, most notably Messi’s birthday — June 24 — where a 65-pound cake of five feet length and three feet in width resembling a football pitch was cut the last time.
“We don’t just support the team when it wins. We feel Argentina is part of us. Maradona is ours, Messi is ours,” Saha says pointing to community service they do to retain the Argentina connect.
Schoolbags in Argentina colours are distributed among poor children; notebooks that are gifted come with photographs of Messi and Maradona; and camps are organised.
On International Drug Abuse Day, some cyclists from the club pedal across the city spreading awareness about this menace. Saha says this is because Maradona was destroyed by drugs.
The plan this year is to unite all, not only Argentine fans, during World Cup games and deck the pandal up with Messi posters and flags of all 32 participating nations.
There will also be an inverse skating board made, with a World Cup replica placed atop it.
“Messi will be the foremost in the race for the trophy among players. We will make small statues of other team’s star players too. It will be designed in such a manner that others are trying to pull Messi down,” explains Saha.
Messi, 30, is yet to win a major trophy for his country after failing to fire in the final of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
And what if Argentina do win the World Cup in Russia?
“Kolkata will remember Argentina Football Fan Club’s celebrations for a long time if that happens. We will paint the city Messi.”