Riding on a rising star

OUT OF AFRICA Viva Kerala will be bolstered by the presence of the African stars Baba Tunde, and Omobolaji Saheed

OUT OF AFRICA Viva Kerala will be bolstered by the presence of the African stars Baba Tunde, and Omobolaji Saheed   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: VIPIN CHANDRAN

Viva Kerala gets ready for next month's Second Division National League in Kochi. STAN RAYAN takes a look at the club's preparations

As he hoodwinked the Sao Paulo defence and moved into the box, the crowd roared in excitement. It cheered him on in thirsty anticipation. Baba Tunde will not forget that evening very easily. Playing as a guest for Kerala, the Nigerian striker's sudden raids kept the Brazilian side on its toes midway through the first half of the Super Soccer Series game in Kochi the other day."I raised my game a hundred per cent for that match. We had a 4-5-1 formation, which made life very difficult for me. And remember, we just trained five days for that game," said the 21-year-old. "That performance has given me a lot of confidence for we were playing one of best clubs of Brazil. Now, I am ready for anybody."

Banking on confidence

It is this sort of confidence, which Viva Kerala will be banking on as it gets ready for its Second Division National Football League Group `A' fixtures which begin in Kochi on March 5. Viva has Chennai's Indian Bank, Srinagar's J & K Bank, Shillong's Lajong Sports Club, Bangalore's Army XI and Goa's Salgaocar Club for company. State Bank of Travancore, the other team from Kerala in the Second Division, figures in Group `B' which will be played in Goa.

Mystery factor

"There's a sort of mystery factor about our opponents which makes the event very unpredictable. I think all the teams will be of equal strength which should make the event a tough one," said the Viva coach A. M. Sreedaharan even as he watched his star Baba Tunde try out headers at the Udyogamandal FACT Ground.Baba Tunde has been the young professional team's pillar of strength in all its successes: He has been its top scorer in the Ernakulam League, the Kerala League and at the Third Division National League's South Zone phase which the Kochi-based club topped comfortably in Chalakudy late last year.And with his countryman Omobolaji Saheed Oparinde joining the club recently, Baba is a happy man too. The two were clubmates at Energy FC, a premier division club at the Republic of Benin, a small country bordering Nigeria two years ago."The Second Division games are not going to be easy but I know everybody will work hard. We are strong and brave," said Tunde.Things were not so bright and beautiful when the club rang in the New Year. Many of the players had rushed to places like Malappuram and Kozhikode to play sevens tournaments and when the club opened the camp for the year, just a little more than half its members turned up for training.

Sevens football

"Sevens football is a big craze in Kerala but it's very difficult, very dangerous. In sevens you play individual football, you just play on your side, you just maintain your area," said Tunde. Tunde should know. He had played nearly 80 sevens matches during a four-month period early last year before coming to Viva Kerala. "I scored some 130 goals but sometimes the games are very aggressive, very violent." And once he signed for Viva, Tunde put all that behind him. Now, he and Saheed have been speaking to their teammates about how the sevens can affect their game. About how a broken leg in sevens could end their football season or even their career. And about how it messes up the elevens game.There is a popular perception that footballers play sevens because they are not paid enough by their clubs. But Tunde countered that saying, "if you are a good player, you can demand your money, your rights." "Take the case of N. P. Pradeep and Mohammed Rafi. They were just playing our State League last year, now they are with National League champion Mahindra United and earning nearly Rs 10 lakhs a season each. That's what I keep telling my teammates. To work hard, to look at bigger goals," said Tunde who played for Goa's Dempo Club two years ago and before that for the Nigerian under-17 team.As he coaxes his teammates to see the virtues of the elevens, the boys begin to focus on the Second Division. "Our ambition is to carry everybody as a family," said Tunde.Viva is now ready for a joy ride with the rising star.
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