The gathering of the grand old men

They’re From Three Different Continents, But On Monday, Miku, Chhetri And Dimas Sang Together To Dismantle A Hapless FC Pune City At The Balewadi…

“Treinta y tres, treinta y cuatro, treinta y cinco.” There was a Spaniard and a Venezuelan in the group of three but Sunil Chhetri was the one sticking his tongue to his set of upper teeth and reminding Dimas Delgado and Miku, in flawlessly pronounced Spanish, about how the grand old men of the team, with a combined age of more than a hundred, still had it in them to win a game and pick up a few awards after it. You couldn’t tell whether the laughter that followed was because they didn’t mind a little joke on themselves, or if it was in harmless mockery of the younger lot who had worked their socks off but would get no share of the amount scribbled on the uncomfortably-sized plastic cheques.

Chhetri didn’t struggle with the language, after all they had been singing from the same song sheet a little while ago. The captain did hit a few wrong notes but Delgado and Miku were swift in putting their legs to the distortion pedals before Chhetri fooled the crowd into believing he hadn’t skipped a beat.

The Spaniard’s final passes are dispatched with a great degree of care. And it isn’t because he’s weighing the hit or acting on calculations. It’s because he’s tended for the ball far too much to let goodbyes with it be rushed. He shuts the door on the pass the moment it leaves his laces, but not completely. There’s that little crack left open, from which he peers through while standing on his toes, as if to mentally guide the ball to where he intended sending it to. He did it again on Monday.

Chhetri brought it down, sent it home and then recovered from a stumble that would do a drunk proud before orating a “I told you so” that ended in the deliverer’s arms. Going by the captain’s finger wag and little speech, you could tell the duo had plotted this goal at the dinner table the night before. It wasn’t part of the team meeting. It was their little secret that the Stadium and everyone watching at home, now knew.

We’ve heard about Lannisters and their abhorrence of debts. Chhetri is, in so many ways, cut from the same cloth. He missed two chances in quick succession to put the Blues ahead at the Balewadi. He reacted with his hands to his head when he squandered the first of the two, but recovered soon. The second miss – a tap that flew over the crossbar from five yards out after the bounce from Udanta’s cross betrayed him – took a little more out of Chhetri. Television reruns show Carles Cuadrat clapping the skipper on in encouragement. The man with the armband felt he didn’t deserve it. Which is why he chose instead to fall back on the turf, knot his fingers to make one big mask with which to cover his face.

But Delgado would help Chhetri in his quest for salvation and a minute later, Miku would complete it. Powering through Adil Khan and Martin Diaz, the Venezuelan found himself with the space to shoot. Instead, he rolled the ball down to Chhetri. It was the right decision, but given Miku’s ability to hit home from distance, it seemed selfless. Thank yous were in order and skipper said with a finish that was an ode to his strike partner. The captain cut in, lied to Sarthak Golui, dropped a shoulder, dropped the defender, dropped Vishal Kaith and then chipped the ball between the two Pune City men – just like Miku would have. Two-nil. Debt paid.

Bengaluru were in control but Miku wasn’t leaving without his fix. He didn’t need the perfect pass. Instead, he turned a long punt from Albert Serran from deep inside Bengaluru’s half, into a gorgeous assist and then slapped the ball home on the bounce to make it three-nothing.

We’ve told you before how the Blues and 3-1 wins have been strange bedfellows. The nights where games have ended with that scoreline have always been special contests. Johor in the AFC Cup, East Bengal in the I-League and even FC Pune City in the ISL last season. But as special as the win was, Monday didn’t seem worthy enough a battle for it to end 3-1. That seems the best explanation to why Diego Carlos’ hit ricocheted off the Bengaluru post late in the second half.

Later that night at the hotel, the dinner table was chirpier than usual. Away wins do that to you. There were goals, three of them, then there was a clean sheet, no suspensions, the physio didn’t have to touch his wares – it was as perfect a night as you could ask for.

But somewhere amid all the mirth, the ‘gathering of the grand old men’ was taking place and Miku’s attempted lob in the first half that landed on the roof of the goal, came up for discussion. One of the members of the staff wanted in on the matter and mentioned how good a goal it would have been had it gone in and how cruel luck can be. The table was waiting for the striker to agree in approval.

But experience and years of mastering a craft brings with it a degree of honesty and Miku’s response underlined it. “It wasn’t about luck. It was never going in. I made a bad decision.” Delgado, Chhetri and Miku wished each other a good night, leaving all the luck for the younger lot who were rolling the dice in a game of Ludo on the table next to them. Because on the other side of thirty, you start making your own luck. Ask the ‘grand old men’, they know all about it.

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