N. U. ABILASH

The World Cup 2006 will witness a battle between football-as-responsibility and football-as-profit in full public view.

DROWNED in the hype that the 2006 FIFA World Cup has generated before its kick-off in Germany on June 9 are the voices of two people as alike as chalk and cheese - philosopher Albert Camus and football deity Diego Maradona.

Value of football

Between them, they have given us a good idea of the value of football to human lives. "All that I know most surely about morality and the obligations of man, I owe to football," wrote Nobel Laureate Albert Camus, who was the goalkeeper of the Algerian national team, then a French colony, during the 1920s. "Winning the Mexico World Cup in 1986 was an extraordinary moment for Argentinian people, which sadly has not happened again since. But we (the players) gave nothing more to our poor citizens than happiness that could momentarily help them forget their reality. We did not bring down the price of bread, which most of my countrymen who felt happy at our success could not afford. It's a lovely thought that football players can solve people's problems through playing, I wish we could solve the poverty in Argentina. We'd all be better off," wrote Maradona, the man who was the overwhelming public choice in FIFA's Footballer of the Millennium poll in Year 2000. Camus played football till he was diagnosed as having tuberculosis in 1930, the year that the first edition of the game's show-piece event, the FIFA World Cup, was staged in Uruguay. It was a time when football-as-sport - with its traditional values such as bravery, honesty, selflessness, strength of character and loyalty - prevailed over the laws of the market, which certainly played a self-effacing part in the sport through the practice of professionalism and, of course, through turnstiles. Maradona's magic enthralled the world in the 1980s, the decade when global corporate and television industry had just started its big onslaught on football-as-sport. Eyeing the astronomical money available, administrators of leading European football clubs started doing the unthinkable; subverting the rules applied by football associations across Europe in the early part of the 20th century intended to preserve clubs as sporting institutions rather than organisations that can be traded on the stock exchange. The then FIFA president Jao Havelange got greedy, though he headed an organisation that, unlike the top clubs, had a responsibility to foreground social responsibility over commercial gains. Insensitively, Havelange ordered afternoon kick-offs in the summer heat of Mexico in 1986 so that the event could get prime time television viewership in Europe and satisfy the television giants. "He is a future murderer," said Maradona in that memorable World Cup press conference in Mexico. "Some player is soon going to die playing in the heat." At a time when the mass appeal of elected heads and other public figures the world over pales into insignificance before the modern Maradonas, global citizens will enjoy the performances of the established icons and usher in the arrival of new ones in Germany. People of countries that are not part of the 32-nation showpiece event will make a mockery of the term neutrality and passionately support their favourite team depending on diverse factors such as the brand of football they play, class and continental affiliations and, of course, the presence of style icons such as David Beckham. Work will grind to a halt - research states that the day of the England-Argentina first round clash in the 2002 World Cup recorded the lowest industrial production in the U.K. during the present decade - streets will be deserted, and pubs and bars will record booming business.

Centre of the battle

Entrapped in the genius displayed by players such as Brazilian Ronaldinho, Frenchman Thierry Henry, Argentinian Lionel Messi and Englishman Wayne Rooney (fitness permitting), and its after-effects, few will note that Germany 2006 will be a watershed event where the battle between football-as-responsibility and football-as-profit is played out in full public view. At the centre is an ongoing legal battle between a small Belgian club Royal Charleroi and the 207-member global governing body of the sport, FIFA, in the European Court of Justice. Those who think that FIFA is the shark eating up the small fish, think again. Charleroi is being backed in the battle by the G-14, the association of Europe's traditionally rich 18 clubs. The Belgian club is seeking compensation from FIFA for the loss of one of their midfielders for eight months due to an injury sustained when he was on international duty with his country, Morocco. If Charleroi wins, clubs - which are players' paymasters - will be able to decide whether or not they should release key players for international duty. The G-14 has also separately challenged FIFA in the Swiss Competition Commission claiming "appropriate compensation for the mandatory release of players". The rich clubs are demanding a one-fifth share from FIFA's earnings from television rights (£670m) and official sponsors (£240m). In effect, the death-knell of the World Cup has been sounded even as the world gears up to enjoy the month that will showcase the very soul, the apotheosis, of the "People's Game". FIFA President Joseph Blatter is up for the fight though. "The money we get from the World Cup is our budget for the next four years to develop the sport in our member associations, most of which represent Third World countries," said Blatter. "We cannot allow the gap between football's rich and the poor to widen further."The last-ditch battle to preserve football's soul is about to begin. Camus has had his say before the soul had been given a quadrennial casing. Even Maradona, the people's footballer, will be inclined to support a FIFA head honcho! Our choice is not very difficult. Event of extremesThe biggest comedy: Italy, 1990RENE HIGUITA and Roger Milla: Higuita, the former Colombian goalkeeper who invented the `Scorpion Kick' in a friendly against England at Wembley in 1994, did not believe that the goalkeeper's position is at the goalmouth. He frequently took risks, sometimes venturing as far out into the midfield with the ball at his feet. The most memorable of such ventures outside his area was during Colombia's second round match in the 1990 World Cup against Cameroon. Higuita tried to dribble past African icon Roger Milla, who himself was no less a charmer having introduced his famous pelvic gyrations by the corner flag after scoring a goal. The striker calmly dispossessed the goalkeeper and scored, taking Cameroon to the quarterfinal, and it was time for more pelvic thrusts. The biggest tragedy: USA, 1994COLOMBIAN defender Andres Escobar, who scored an own goal in his country's 2-1 loss to the host nation in a Group A match on June 22, was shot dead outside a Madeline nightclub on July 2. Escobar's girlfriend, who was near him at the time of the tragedy, testified that the assailant had pumped 12 bullets into Escobar and each time he fired he had shouted `goal' referring to the tragic goal he had scored in his own net. In the same tournament, when Argentine superstar Diego Maradona was disqualified for testing positive for Ephedrine, a banned substance, about a hundred fans in Bangladesh committed suicide.

`Super six' in GermanyRONALDINHO: The 26-year-old Brazilian won the FIFA World Player of the Year award in the last two years as well as both the European Footballer of the Year award and the inaugural FIFPro World Player of the Year award last year. He won the World Cup in 2002, and helped club Barcelona win the European Champions League last month. The world's best footballer is expected to showcase his sublime skills in Germany and help his nation to a record sixth World Cup title.RONALDO: The hero of 2002, the Brazilian striker will be looking to be the leading World Cup scorer of all time in Germany, most certainly his last World Cup. He needs three more goals to surpass Gerd Muller's record of 14 goals. Ronaldo, who was a teenager in the Brazilian World Cup winning squad of 1994, had a mysterious nervous breakdown on the eve of the 1998 final against France, which affected his and his team's performance.

ZINEDINE ZIDANE: The Frenchman, who was the inspiration for his country's World Cup win at home in 1998 scoring twice in the final, has announced that this will be his last tournament. Zidane, who will celebrate his 34th birthday during the course of the World Cup, was the world's most complete footballer before the dawn of the Ronaldinho era, and like the Brazilian has won all the big trophies and awards that matter in top-flight club and international football. DAVID BECKHAM: The English captain's face that is described as one that launches a thousand products. Famous for his `Metrosexual' looks, innovative hairstyles, celebrity lifestyle, marriage to former Spice Girls singer Victoria Beckham and spin-off potential, on the field, Beckham is a right-sided midfielder noted for his workaholic spirit and excellence in dead ball situations such as free-kicks. Yet to win a World Cup, though he has won the European Champions League with former club Manchester United.

THIERRY HENRY: The 28-year-old Frenchman is by far the best forward in club football, having finished the top-scorer in the English Premiership for the third successive year and the fourth time in five years. But the Arsenal captain has been criticised for not carrying his awesome club scoring record into top-flight international football. He was below par during the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004, but he scored three goals apiece in France's successful World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 campaigns.

MICHAEL OWEN: The 26-year-old English striker made a dream start to his World Cup career in 1998 in France scoring a goal against Argentina that will be remembered as a World Cup classic. Owen is a big-match player for England; he is the joint all-time top-scorer for England in competitive internationals: the World Cup, the European Nations Cup and the qualifiers for the tournaments (22 goals, the same as football legend Gary Linekar). England's strike-force will be on his shoulders in Germany, especially in the group stage for which "young wonder" Wayne Rooney has been ruled out due to a foot injury.