Friday, July 9, 2010

Elements of Style and Spain

Barney Ronay, in the Guardian, grapples with the concept of Spain's footballing success thus far in the tournament playing it in the style they've been committed to for a long time now.

To quote:

But still the feeling persists that this is an oddly frictionless excellence; that Spain play a kind of platinum-selling dinner party football – Coldplay Football – that is clearly and undeniably high spec, but also devoid of jarringly revelatory spikes and twists. Playing against Spain must feel a little like playing a chess computer: strangled, impotent, you gawp helplessly at its robotic grace.

I must be fair to him; he gives them due credit for their technical excellence at various parts of the article, but you always get the sense that the admiration is grudging. He almost wishes footballing excellence were defined by being able to ride the hard tackles; by players waltzing past two-footed lunges; and by referees not being card-happy for what are—in his opinion—relatively innocuous fouls. In the piece, there's visible uneasiness over FIFA's supposed open endorsement of Spain's tiki-taka style, and unhappiness over good-old blue-collar ethic relegated to the role of bridesmaid—or perhaps even worse.

My objection, of course, is in his "Coldplay Football" metaphor. I'm not a big fan of their work. [Okay, their early stuff was decent, but decent. Spain is not decent.]

The excellent Tim Vickery—the BBC's South American football correspondent—used to say that if football was a language, the different styles and philosophy in approach that teams brought into the game were its dialects. This, by extension means that there's no wrong style of playing the game. These approaches are constantly in a state of flux; subtle adjustments are made to varied degrees of success.

Whereas Holland dominated the 70s under Rinus Michels' total football—a dynamic, attacking style which involved all ten outfield players interchanging positions as they moved to fill gaps, and constant off-the-ball movement—they've changed their style to such an extent that total football is now a comfort-food term for pundits—those who've failed to do their research—to use and feign knowledge of footballing history. That and numerous puns around the word Oranje. This is not to say that the Dutch stopped believing in an attacking philosophy—they continued to put out sides that entertained and delighted the neutrals. But total football, they certainly didn't play. Primarily because it's really hard to implement without the right personnel. The current Dutch side plays the way it does, because, save for Sneijder, Robben and van Persie in their starting line up, they are really limited creatively. The addition of another creative midfielder might improve them, but it's the style they've decided to go for—presumably because an adherence to a more carefree philosophy hasn't worked for them so far. Evidently the manager doesn't trust his men to be capable of a more expansive style.

Which brings us to the crux of Spain's style.

It's a very different type of attacking football, unlike the champagne counter-attacking fare the Germans served up till the quarterfinals. The tiki-taka short-passing style is a strange attacking style because, it—much like total football—is an exceptionally difficult system to perfect. It requires players of supreme technique. There's a thin line that separates exceptional control and penetration, and aimless sideways or backward passing.

In full flow it's a joy to watch as Barcelona have shown us the past. As the stat that has come to pass by now would tell you, there was a phase during Spain-Germany when seven Barcelona lads made up the ten outfield players. [Maybe that's why they've not scored more, since a midfield of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets kept looking out for Messi on the right, and had to keep reminding themselves that this isn't the Camp Nou. Of course, I kid, but think about it.] However, when not in full flow, or while protecting a lead, this short-passing style could very well be a perfect defensive tactic.

It's not explicit, like the Catenaccio-absorb-the-pressure defending. But it's more auto-pilot where, as long as you keep the ball, you're probably unlikely to let the opposition score, and you can cruise along winding down the clock with pretty, short-passing. You'll probably hear the phrase, death-by-a-thousand-passes, and whilst it's the death of the opposition, it could also mean haemorrhaging of brain cells of the casual viewer growing increasingly suspicious of the commentator's effusive praise of Spain's performance so far.

What this kind of possession masks however, is how difficult the act of possession itself is. It's noticeable more when the opposition gets the ball and promptly loses it either to a panicky hopeful punt up-field [apparently to make up for time lost due to Spain hogging the possession] or to the high pressure Spain's players apply the moment they lose possession.

The reason why a lot of people have a problem with Spain's style is probably because their style hasn't really been challenged. They've suffered two losses in the last two years. The Switzerland loss must be a statistical anomaly; something they've managed to shrug off quite easily till now.

So, it's either their methods that haven't really been challenged, or that they have yet to meet a side that could match this talent man-for-man; which, right now, is perhaps another hypothetical Spain, as Ronay suggested.

This ease is what disturbs some. The irony of their ruthless streak—that their goal was actually 'ugly'—scares others. When in possession it feels like watching someone who had the questions to the maths paper the day before, (and solved them all that night) so now in the exam hall he is answering the questions by rote rather than having to stretch his brain—like his peers—to solve them.

James Richardson on the Guardian podcast nailed it when he said it's like the last scene in the Matrix where Neo has Agent Smith all figured out such that he anticipates his every single move and blocks every punch with annoying precision.

This is not to say that their system isn't flawed—there has been a tendency to over-elaborate, often in a bid to walk the ball into the net for a perfect goal—but it's a solid system that's beautiful to watch; well, at least for me.


[In conclusion, my gushing praise for Spain's brilliance is probably going to jinx them, much like my previous post in praise of Dunga's Brazil. What to do? I'm no Octopus--merely human.]

Monday, June 21, 2010

On Beautiful Beasts

I was planning to write a post on Brazil following the match against Côte d'Ivoire, but one of the most anticipated matches -- at least for me -- had to be skipped due to unplanned events. I had to travel out of town and back to drop off a friend at the airport. Even the choice of restaurant, while we stopped for lunch, couldn't have been worse: no TV!

Meanwhile, due to some legalese that I will never quite understand, replays of matches telecast on ESPN's sister (parent?) network, ABC are not allowed to be up on until the next day. So I've decided to write about Brazil anyway. Read on.

Populist pre-world cup predictions have an unhealthy relationship with reality. In 2002, an awesome Argentina squad -- with Veron at the peak of his powers -- was everyone's darling. So were France. Brazil limped its way through qualification -- and went by their business almost by stealth.

Brazil was the buzzword in 2006 -- and in case you missed it, Nike made sure they told you about Joga Bonito [more on that later] -- whilst Italy were clambering out of a match-fixing swamp that threatened to suck Serie A (and Italian football) into oblivion.

2010: Spain and Brazil are everyone's favourites and for good reason. Spain, for the purposes of this post, are irrelevant.

Following international football has been a largely neutral vocation for me with a soft corner for sides that play good, attractive football. It's simple really: it's the joie de vivre version of the game that made me fall in love with it in the first place. Also, I'm far too invested in club-level loyalties to enjoy football at that level without anything but a looney red-tinted lens.

This Brazil, however, is a strange thing. It's frustrated purists for good reason. More accurately, Dunga has. Even as late as the eve of the World Cup, the popular emotion from the Brazilian public was for a return to their "Samba-style, beautiful football". I'm sure the Brazilians crave for that kind of football genuinely. But Brazil have slowly but surely, under Dunga, eschewed all such pretense to play football with the intent to win: beauty if it manifests would be wonderful. But it's incidental.

But there are two myths about Brazil, that I seek to debunk. The first is easy: the myth that Brazil are somehow the last guardian angels of the beautiful game; or as we've been told by snooty observers from anywhere but England: football played the right way. The fault, for that perception, isn't Brazil's. It's in the marketing, and perhaps, partly the Brazil FA's willingness to cash in on this positive worldview on their brand of flair football. [Case in point: Nike's endless reels of commercials showing Brazil players goofing around doing silly things with the ball, and Ronaldinho's rise (and fall?) to a mascot. Also: Brazil charging princely fees for playing friendlies against 'lesser' nations.] But the greater fault lay at the almost ubiquitous lazy writing and ignorant punditry that continued to assign adjectives such as free-flowing and Samba-style a good decade after they last played such football for a sustained period. So in the words of Penn & Teller: Samba style? "Bullshit!"

The other myth, which sort of works against the backdrop of debunking the first one, is this: Dunga is playing boring, negative football.

This is especially something his harshest critics love. They don't like what they see on the pitch: football is not being played like those pretty boys from Barcelona or Spain's national team, or heaven forbid, even like those (recently) schizophrenic Argentinians. So it's a very powerful stick to beat Dunga with, when he fails; or, should we say, if he fails. To their disbelief, Brazil lost just one match back in October 2009 which ended a 19 match unbeaten streak. They got back from 2-0 down to the USA in the Confederations Cup final in June 2009 to win 3-2. But they just found a way to win.

Dunga's Brazil on the surface may be ugly, but they're not your usual ugly. They're like that giant, intimidating, grumpy man you saw in your neighbourhood, who, Gran Torino-style threatens to shoot a trespasser, but secretly helps out poor and destitute kids in his spare time on weekends. Brazil aren't exactly the grumpy-old-man-with-a-heart-of-gold metaphor I've tried to create here, but they probably are more like you don't know if it's the grumpy old fart or Jesus who's going to show up. Either way, they get the job done. You get to see the grumpy, menacing (almost beastly) face more often. In the rare occasion, you'll see Jesus in all his glory -- and everyone loves Jesus. I suppose people who saw the match yesterday saw Jesus, live.

In Maicon, in Lucio, they have machines who can run up and about the pitch for 90 minutes, like they have ten lungs. In Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva, they have the creaky, boring functional heart of the Brazilian midfield, that somehow works -- presumably held together under the 'evil' gaze of Dunga. They have a tower up top in Luis Fabiano. But their soul, often overwhelmed by the machinery surrounding him, is Kaka. The part that's human, beautiful (especially while working in tandem with Robinho and ably supported by Elano) and also flawed.

His form is the switch that lights up Brazil.

They're almost always in control, even when they're playing poorly. Which is perhaps a little different from negative football. This is a much more European-looking Brazil than any of its predecessors: tactically astute, hard to be bullied and constantly under the gaze of a man with questionable sartorial sense. Vulnerable, sure, like all of its contemporaries, but beastly too.

That's Brazil, and I suspect the same Brazil that turned up against the Ivory Coast.

Now off I go to watch the game.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

'Vacations' or Trips of Peril [Since You're Now Over 25]

Assuming I have things in place -- documents, tax returns filed on time, and the small matter of a passport -- I should be boarding a flight to India this Saturday.

Vacation. A vacation it is, but that term applies a bit loosely here. I am assuming the most comfortable part of the trip will be the 20 odd hours spent few miles above ground. After that it's most likely going to be lost in a blur of visa interviews, meeting and greeting relatives, and staying at each city for a couple of days at most. Mental preparation has begun in earnest. I've decided to sleep by standing up straight. The problem is I've got the standing up part right, but not the sleep. Maybe I should try it at night.

But I think I can master even that over the next three days. Even if it's a tad idealistic, let us assume for argument's sake. What worries me is the teeming mass that is bound to greet me. You see, I am going to be attending a cousin's wedding, and I am approaching the wrong side of twenty.

This all started about three years ago when, during a Skype conversation, my parents first mentioned marriage in a sentence addressed to me. It was a little unusual; awkward even. But I was in the middle of a sentence, rattling on about how amazing this high-speed internet connection was in the US. I paused for a second, thought I heard the word kalyanam, but was determined to finish explaining how I didn't have to wait to let YouTube buffer before playing the video in whole. As it turned out, my father all of a sudden exclaimed, thanks to a spike in a stock he'd purchased the previous week, and my mother had to attend to a phone call. [Two months ago was when my mother actually discovered YouTube because it had 'good recipe shows'] So much for my hyperventilation over high-speed internet. But I digress.

Last year was when they got a little earnest about this 'get-married' thing. But it was by way of showing understanding, in keeping with the 'modern outlook of this current generation.'

"Son, it's alright. We understand. You need to get settled career-wise. Then only we can talk about marriage and all."

"Yes, ma. Fair enough."

A few months later, after having shared an apartment for a major part of my relatively short life in the States, I moved to an apartment to live all by myself last August. That was when this gentle strategy of understanding segued smoothly into a quest for concrete answers.

"So, now that you are settled, and on your own, when do you want to get married?"

"You see, ma, it's only now that I've finally moved to live on my own. I want to get to spend some, erm, alone-time. I think it's been quite peaceful till now. Why the hurry?"

"Fair enough. But give us a time frame."

This was a little hard. On the one hand you look forward to a period of living alone, in peace. On the other you're given a stern reminder (expressed in very kind terms, nonetheless) that this can't last. A time frame! What is this? Afghanistan?

"Erm, maybe a year and a half should be okay. I'm not prepared for a married life right now."

"But what if we start looking now so that you will be all set in a year or so?"

"Hmm, that sounds nice in theory, but what if you find someone in a couple of months -- by some freaky coincidence? I'll be forced to marry."

"Yes that's a possibility. But we shouldn't wait. You know you're also losing hair--"

I nodded. I was indeed losing hair.

"So when should we get the horoscopes and talk to the astrologer?" They quickly added.

"Erm, end of next year I blurted."

It was agreed that on one auspicious day, towards the end of 2010, my parents will go, life full of hope, to an astrologer and place it in front of him for his verdict.

But they went anyway... in January.

Astrologer told them -- and this is perhaps the rare occasion when I've raised my glass of orange juice to an astrologer -- that they can start 'looking' only after September 2010.

Of course, this didn't stop them from occasionally debating the institution of marriage and such-like.

"Why don't you get married?" They'd ask, possibly by force of habit now.

"Sigh. Okay, but I don't want to have any kids."

"*gasp* Wait, what? Why? What's the point then?"


Or the other occasion when they used subtler methods, like the time when my grandmother was handed the phone.

"Hello, grandson, how are you doing?"

"Hello grandma, namaskarams How are--"

"When are you going to get married?"

"Uh, I don't think I will for another year at least."

"No no. How can you say that? I don't even know if I'll be alive then. It's my wish that you should get married now that your cousin A is getting married. You're next in line. Can't you grant me this one wish? No?" She inhales deeply.

"Er, good point you make. Er-- what's that? Wha--? I can't hear you in this line. I'll call you in five minutes." I exhale, with all my might.


Part of this post is fact, and part fiction. Just like in the works of legendary author, Dan Brown, it's cleverly juxtaposed so you couldn't tell.

Wish me luck as I wade my way and hope to come back in one piece and unhitched.

Monday, March 1, 2010

On Personal, Long-form Prose Blogging

Nostalgia had a place in my writing, I think. Or did it? Okay, scratch that. Let me start over.

I don't come across as someone who clings fondly to the past; real-life friends would attest to that. This is especially true when it comes to people and relationships. But every so often, there are moments; at times a brief but wistful glance at my version of the Wonder Years. Moments spring out like thumbnailed revolving picture-postcards with images that become a video clip when each one comes to the fore. Fragments that run for a few moments, and then, as abrupt as they come, they disappear. The effect tends to linger a little longer though; threads of thought branch away from those moments, as the mind attempts to extrapolate these clips to a series of 'what-ifs', meandering towards a merry smorgasbord of an ideal life.

As long as these moments might seem, the reverie tends to last just a few seconds. I get caught up in these few seconds once a month. (Maybe once in three months? I'm not sure.)

As with many introverted beings, verbal communication has been optional. Writing was how I'd articulate as best as I could. The advent of blogging, or when I discovered it in 04/05, drew me to it. Indeed, I wrote because I loved writing. And I'd like to think I still do it for that reason. The moment it becomes a chore, it shows -- to me at least. I think I had less discretion back then, so I wrote a lot more about myself.

But most importantly, I had in my midst (out of the people I knew in real life) some fine writers. Primarily, two of them. PTV continues to pour his heart out in his blog. Some of it obscure and perhaps very personal, but just wonderful writing. Keerthi was the other. He may have coined the adage that if you are good, then your stuff must come at a premium.

Free-flowing, long-form prose that I wish I read more of these days.

I remember writing some Kafkaesque gibberish back in the early days. I shudder to imagine the stuff I came up with -- stuff only a disaffected Indian male in an engineering college hostel could write. Mercifully -- and I'm sure you'd appreciate this -- the stuff wasn't suicidal or perverse. But then, pseudo-intellectual psycho-babble that seemed to characterize a lot of blogging back then isn't any better. But, as risible as my attempts at 'writing' back then might seem now, it was personal. It meant something at the time of writing. And I think some people even left kind words in the comments. I shudder, nonetheless, as a part of my mind sheepishly thanks those people; it has little place or time to consider how many of those were ironic.

I'm sure that kind of blogging exists in the internet. I long to be able to write stuff like that -- stuff that feels right when I write it. Stuff that is borne out of inspiration, without being overly self-indulgent -- after all, it is a blog that's public, and like all materials published in the open, a sliver of vanity creeps into the author's head that cannot be discounted.

I long to be able to do all that.

So much for not clinging on to the past, eh?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Guest Post: Shah Rukh Khan

After reading our exclusive on Aamir Khan, we at, er, OCAD towers were contacted by Mr. Shah Rukh Khan who offered to tell his side of the story to counter the bad publicity his arch-nemesis was giving him. (Also, we think it's due to the impending release of his new movie, but let's leave aside our personal prejudices eh?)

Anyway, SRK has offered to do one guest post here, and as the guardians of free speech, we have decided to offer the stage to him to explain himself. So without much ado, we present:

Hey guys, sorry it's hard for me 2 reply 2 evryone. This mdium is too hard, u knw too mny flloowers--

[At this point we had to interject and remind him that he didn't have character limits in this blog and that he could be a bit more free in expressing himself, using appropriate phrasing where necessary; a euphemism for avoiding sms lingo. He assumes we'd edit out the above lines, but we made it clear that his message would be sent out unedited in the interest of our readers.]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - 10:00 am
Hey guys, I am Shah Rukh Khan, or SRK (hence, @iamsrk). I woke up today morning. A purple haze was all over the room. Ah, purple! Which is similar to violet. I love violets. I've seen violets several times while shooting for many songs in my films. Violets give me happiness. Happiness is a nice feeling. So think of purple hazes when you wake up every morning.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - 11:10 am
People think I'm stupid, but I must tell you I am very well read. It's a misconception that Bollywood actors are dumb. Not true. I've read every Dan Brown book there is. I have the hardcore version, the bare paperback version as well as the softcore version which is on my Kindle. BTW, the iPad totally rocks. Maybe I'll get one when I visit the US. I haven't seen the demo videos yet. My Kindle also rocks by the way. I love douglas adam.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - 1:25 pm
Speaking of Dan Brown I feel very inspired by his writings. Like the other day I was wondering why my son told me to wake up by noon. I kept thinking and suddenly I remembered that the release date of my movie was 12 Feb. Noon = 12pm. That's why. You see, everything in this world is connected. Later on my son told me that I had to pick him up from school at 1pm because Gauri was out shopping that day, but still, if I hadn't used my skills to draw this connection between numbers, I wouldn't have slept that night. I see a bit of Dan Brown in everything in life. But I really love douglas adam. Sometimes I really wish I could Hitch-hike around the Universe. Maybe I can visit a black hole or two.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - 7:30 pm
I saw the sunset a couple of hours ago. Poem time!!! This is a haiku. I hope you'll like it:

The circular sun
was shining very brightly
Moon crater is mine.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - 11:30 pm
Alright folks, I have to sleep now. It's dark. There is blackness everywhere outside my window. Maybe black holes look like this. Black reminds me of my darkness. But it can be positive. Like Rani Mukherji in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's movie. I can look at happiness too. So good night.

Remember my happy thoughts, and think about it.

[Well so there you have it. He has had his share of views. We'll let you be the judge.]

PS: If you're confused at the end of this, just have a look at his twitter profile: @iamsrk

PPS: For those who didn't get it, the above was a fake.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Aamir Khan makes stunning IPL announcement

Last night, Bollywood actor, Aamir Khan called an ad-hoc press conference and announced he was going to float his own IPL franchise (after thrashing out last minute details with Lalit Modi) and has bought out all the Pakistan players who weren't even bid for by other IPL franchises.

"In light of Shah Rukh Khan's shallow display of respect for Pakistani players, I have decided to float a new IPL franchise and intend to field all the Pakistan players who weren't bought by any other IPL teams. I intend to go one step further; I will also add Afghanistan players because if SRK's family is from Pakistan, I will claim my family traces its origins to the great emperors from Afghanistan.

It depresses me that people like SRK say words for the sake of cheap publicity, and don't walk their talk. As you can see, like in my movies -- be it 3 Idiots or Taare Zameen Par -- I walk the talk making you people look like wimps. I am a flawless person not just on screen, but even off it. When I said, 'Be the Change' in press conferences prior to Rang De Basanti, I wasn't kidding. This IPL is just the beginning. As pointed out earlier, I am looking into the prospect of having a crater in the sun named after me. They say it's impossible, but hey, if I could convince Mr. Modi and float an additional franchise for IPL 3, naming a crater in the sun after me should be a cake walk. As I've always said, one must shoot for the stars. The sun is a star, and, er, I am actually shooting for it. Also when I titled Taare Zameen Par, I actually meant--"

At this point, a stray dog barked bringing an abrupt end to Aamir Khan's statement that had begun to ramble; it was ad-hoc after all, and in true Phunsuk Wangdu style, he held it out in the open.

A reporter took this opportunity to question the legality of floating a new franchise, to which he bristled, "Shah Rukh can say anything and get away with it. But when I actually do something in action, I get criticised for it. In fact, at least this idea was completely original. How dare you question my honesty? Journalism has lost all sense of ethics. Maybe I will make a movie on journalistic integrity, like season 5 of the Wire, but with me explaining to you how to do your job properly."

"Er, but sir," interjected another reporter, "what will you do to fill the other designated Indian player slots?"

"That's simple, I will make Mohammed Kaif captain and let him pick the best players."

At this point, the dog -- which was now found to be a dachshund, and visibly upset for some reason -- came charging towards Aamir Khan at full tilt and so the press conference had to be curtailed, leaving behind a cloud of dust and a lot of unanswered questions.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The IPL, Sports Business etc.

I hope the brouhaha over the non-inclusion of Pakistanis in the IPL has died down by now. If not, I seriously hope it does soon. Mercifully, I'm not in India right now or I'm certain the ceaseless talk over the 'controversy' would have done my head in. So I'll spare you, dear readers, any discourse on the 'Pakistani-injustice' -- suffice to say, the IPL is a private enterprise, and the respective owners did what they had to do to avoid risks that, in their minds, are very real. [Had they thought Australians were risky and chose not to bid on any, then they are perfectly entitled to do so.] And that's all I intend to say on it.

I'm more drawn to this piece by Amit Varma where he briefly shares his thoughts on the auction system in place currently. I'll quote an excerpt here:

And I don’t get this whole business of auctioning players. Why can’t the franchises just negotiate with players on their own? Why do we need the BCCI in the middle, distorting price signals?

If I remember correctly, Lalit Modi had once argued that the auction system and the spending caps in place are necessary so that a franchise like the Mumbai Indians, flush with Mukesh Ambani’s money, can’t buy out all the good players, thus killing the competition. But such a state would be unsustainable

And he goes on to give two scenarios to back up his claim. [I suggest you read them and come back to this.]

He makes one point that I agree with [so let's get that out of the way]: questioning the existence of the minimum wage. I don't get the point of the base price. I'm more in favour of having a soft base price limit, wherein, a player has the right to reject a contract if offered lower than $100,000 (or whatever the base price may be) if he feels it's ridiculously low for him.

Where I disagree with him is his overall premise that the IPL is essentially a collection of businesses that are competing with one another, and that the IPL's governing body is unfairly butting in by creating these artificial limits on spending. A problem with this assumption with regard to the business of the IPL is a false notion that Lalit Modi's committee, artificially 'distorts the market' with enforced limits in order to create competition -- painting it in a mildly negative light.

I don't see a contradiction here though. My premise is that the IPL is a business entity, and much like McDonalds' the various IPL clubs are its franchises. The IPL is a product on the whole that needs to be sold -- the ratings etc are on how engaging the IPL is as a contest and a tournament. TV rights are also sold this way, instead of individual franchises selling them. So in order for a product to be fair, engaging and exciting, a semblance of competitiveness needs to be built up -- which is why parity is necessary for the success of a sporting product. And in order to do that, they will look to the model that gives them the best hope of avoiding a single dominant team scenario.

The US, for all its capitalist-centric economy, has socialist sporting structures. The NFL, during its yearly draft, gives the side that performed the worst in the previous season the best pick in the first round. The NBA and MLB follow their own version of equitable revenue/talent distribution to ensure every franchise has a shot at legitimately rebuilding. The products are American football, Baseball, Basketball, first and foremost, and Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, LA Lakers then. And it's due to this, that regardless of winning or losing, the franchises are guaranteed to stay reasonably sustainable businesses -- as long as the league draws in enough eyeballs to ensure TV companies pay the advertisers. Indeed, the individual franchises have to maximize their revenues through attendances and merchandising, which keeps them motivated enough to perform on the field. But more on individual franchises a little later in this post.

The exception to this rule however is the world's most popular sport: football (soccer). Football comes closest to the sporting equivalent of laissez faire businesses because the clubs are allowed to buy practically anyone without regard for wage caps or transfer fees, as much as they possibly can. Which is why you see dynasties in the really big leagues. Manchester United have won 18 First Division titles -- six out of ten this decade alone. And eleven, since 1992. The top four this decade in the Premier League has almost always included Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool (with Everton finishing fourth once). If you go to Spain it's been worse, with Barcelona and Real Madrid's shadows looming large over the top two spots -- mostly.

The thing is, the value of these clubs (especially Premier League clubs) have sky rocketed over the years, inviting foreign investment and ownership. However, the revenue streams don't necessarily justify the amount spent on acquiring the club. About 4 clubs in the 20 clubs that are in the English Premiership turned a profit last year. Manchester United the season before last, despite reaching the Champions League final and winning the Premier League, reported a loss of about $40m. (In terms of making money, this is as close a best case scenario as a club can possibly get in football.) The reason they turned a loss was because of the significant interest payments their owners had to pay because they saddled the previously debt-free club now with aout £700m of debt. (Yes, pounds, not US dollars) This is a shockingly poor and irresponsible business model. [Man Utd could, in theory get away with it, but the business model hedges on a period of sustained success: read win Premier League titles frequently and reach deep into the final stages of the Champions League. Assuming their most successful manager at the ripe age of 68 is still in his job till 2017 which is when they have to pay off their debts.] The trend, of late, has seen owners buying up clubs only to attempt to sell them on profit. Simon Kuper, author of the recently released book, Soccernomics, said it rightly that buying football clubs is not a business decision and is more an exercise in philanthropy. Even when clubs fail, they are eventually rescued by benefactors (in many cases out of love for the club) with not much hope of actually making money out of it -- and this has happened to smaller clubs in England quite often now. Which brings us to the last section.

Individual franchises and fan interest:

Amit Varma makes another assumption when it comes to the extremely rich franchises (that fan interest will flag resulting in some sort of an automatic self-correction over time) and I quote:

2] Make the far-fetched assumption that Ambani somehow pulls it off, and his team is by far the strongest, and is thrashing everyone else. What happens? Because the matches are one-sided, the crowds lose interest, ratings fall, revenues go down, and it is no longer sustainable for Ambani to be spending those big bucks. He scales down, the players drift to other teams, and we move towards an equilibrium again.

The problem with this assumption is, if one manages to build a rabid enough fan base, the demand becomes inelastic eventually. You will always have fans flocking to stadiums if they have a love for the sport. Something that's not a problem in India. And it's been the case with hot sporting centres in Europe as well as in the US. Boston Red Sox fans underwent over 80 years of agony, before being rewarded for their support. There's something about supporting sports clubs that makes them beyond just products of soap one can use and throw away if it's not to their liking. It's also why clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona have become too big that they would even get bailed out by local governments and community banks if they faced bankruptcy.

Also, if ratings were to fall due to an era of dominance by a couple of teams, it wouldn't be in the IPL's interests (of maximising revenues) to afford an era of dominance of a few -- especially in a nascent league that's trying to build up fan bases. And financial advantages clearly give a side a better shot at getting higher profile players.

In a free market without such wage caps, fiscal irresponsibility becomes a bigger problem than in a controlled environment like the NFL, NBA and, in our case, the IPL.

If I were to start a sporting model from scratch, I would gravitate more towards a centrally controlled IPL structure rather than the free market situation of football clubs, simply for this reason.

Which is why, whilst I do have a problem with a base price, I think the concept of parity works well for a competitive league. And success/failure should be down more due to gaffes in decision making in the auction (and coaching/playing) rather than a matter of financial inferiority.