Lionel Messi was not there, Emiliano Martinez was. But still, Messi dominated the discourse on a Tuesday afternoon that was reserved for Martinez, who was glad to play ball. As one of Messi’s most trusted lieutenants during Argentina’s triumphant campaign in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Martinez didn’t mind the interest, the curiosity around his iconic teammate’s future in the sport, and decided to go with the flow on the second day of his visit to the football-mad city. Earlier, scenes of unbridled joy swept through the roads leading up to the Mohun Bagan tent, where the star goalkeeper was engaged in a slew of activities, including inaugurating the Pele-Maradona-Sobers gate and declaring open the Kolkata Police Friendship Cup in front of packed stands.
‘Dibu’, as he is fondly called, was overwhelmed by the welcome he received from thousands of fans sporting the Albiceleste colours and Messi’s No. 10 jersey.
“To see so many people cheering for you, and Argentina is a joy,” he said.
With cheers of ‘Messi, Messi’ reverberating across the stands, the 30-year-old Martinez made a promise to bring Messi to Kolkata again, and to play football in Argentina colours.
“This is not the end, I hope to come back to India to play with Argentina and Messi,” he said, generating the loudest cheers.
“Now when I come to places like this, I realise the importance of winning the World Cup. Making people happy.
“I said I would come to Kolkata to see the culture, the beautiful Kolkata city. I’m really proud to be here today,” he said.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup Golden Glove winner thanked Messi for making him a “better goalkeeper”.
Asked if he has ever stopped a Messi penalty, he said: “Yes, I’ve, in practice matches.” “We used to practice a lot before the World Cup. We had to be ready for the penalty shootout. So there is no better way to prepare for it than stopping Messi.
“That’s how I became a better goalkeeper. By denying a Messi penalty I knew I could stop anyone.” “It’s a mental game… I practice a lot. And before the World Cup final too, we practiced a lot of penalty shootouts, knowing that something like this may come into play.” The Aston Villa goalkeeper said he aspires to win more titles with Argentina.
“From a very young age, I had a dream to become Argentina’s number one goalkeeper. I’m not going to relax now, I want to become better and win many, many tournaments for Argentina.” When the discussion turned to Indian football, Martinez said the key is to hire European coaches and develop the youngsters.
“The first thing you need to do is to bring European coaches, bring the best coaches who can teach the kids and bring European style of football — how to move on the pitch.
“I’m also bringing European techniques to Argentina goalkeepers to make sure they become better from a very young age.
“By doing that from a young age, hopefully, India would play the World Cup.”
Messi is the greatest
Earlier in the day, he was felicitated by Mohun Bagan and East Bengal clubs on the sidelines of a chat show ‘Tahader Katha’ at the Milan Mela ground, where he declared “Messi is the greatest”.
“Messi is the best ever player and there will be no Messi in the future. It’s hard to match him. He’s the greatest player.
“We had to win the World Cup for him and we did it.” Messi had made it clear that the World Cup in Qatar was his last and he had no plans to don the Argentina jersey in 2026.
“No worries,” said Martinez, adding that they are a team of “tigers” and they would rise to the challenge again.
“I take on challenges with all my heart and passion. We have got a group of tigers in the team and we are ready to fight,” he said.
Sea of white and blue
The Maidan was a sea of white and blue with Argentina fans sporting the jersey and heading to the Mohun Bagan ground.
The posters of Martinez kissing his Golden Glove and the glittering FIFA World Cup Trophy dotted the Gostha Pal Sarani leading up to Mohun Bagan tent.
Such was the craze outside the Mohun Bagan gate that not an inch of space was left vacant.
Fans were seen standing on the edges of an open drain, or precariously standing on the cliffs of the stadium gallery, to catch a glimpse of Martinez.
The Argentine icon arrived an hour late and first inaugurated the Pele-Maradona-Sobers gate by cutting the customary ribbon.
He headed straight to the Mohun Bagan tent office where the club officials took him on a tour of the facility. It was followed by a customary photo-op with the club members outside the club lawn.
The club also handpicked a few school children who had their “dreams fulfilled”.
“It was a dream come true for us. We are a big fan of his goalkeeping and took selfies and autographs,” said Prachet Singh Chauhan, who was accompanied by Akshat Gupta, Aravan Bajpayee and Karan Chawla.
Later, he headed to the ground and waved the Indian flag in a novel gesture. He then boarded an open vehicle, took a round of the ground, and kicked footballs to the fans in the galleries.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
Topics mentioned in this article