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The Hat-Trick | Prolific Roy Krishna Strikes Again for ATK MB; EPL Announces Bailout Package for Lower Rung English Clubs; Arsenal Welcome Fans and Fluidity

The Hat-Trick (Top Football News of the Day): Roy Krishna scored five minute into injury time to give ATK Mohun Bagan a 1-0 victory over Odisha FC | Premier League’s bailout package, announced on Thursday, includes a 200 million pounds interest free loan for EFL championship sides | Arsenal beat Rapid Vienna in a game that welcomes back fans for the first time in 9 months.
Roy Krishna of ATK Mohun Bagan

Roy Krishna celebrates after scoring the late winner for ATK Mohun Bagan against Odisha FC in their Indian Super League at the Fatorda Stadium (Pic: ISL).

It takes gruelling performances and 90 minutes of solidity to win a game of football. Or sometimes it just takes a moment of luck, predatory striking to do so. On an evening when ATK Mohun Bagan looked a little less composed than usual — their rock solid defence making a fair few errors — it was the latter that kept their perfect start to the season intact. 

Of course if you have Roy Krishna upfront, then these formulas don’t really matter. The man who scored 15 goals and had recorded six assists last season of the Indian Super League (ISL) has started off this new one with three goals in three games so far. His winner yesterday came in the 95th minute of the game, and was perhaps the only clear chance he had to score. He put it away.

In a game where the long ball in the box was the weapon of choice, Odisha, perhaps, had the best chance of the opening half, Marcelinho and Cole Alexander producing a corner routine straight out of the training ground to release Jacob Tratt in the box. The defender was positioned perfectly for Alexander’s ball into the box, and the ATKMB defence had gone to sleep, moving up and leaving space and time for the header to come through. Tratt missed and Odisha’s chance was gone. 

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In the end that is what the ISL boils down to — margins. If ATKMB hadn’t won this game, there is no doubt Habas would’ve had some choice words for the referee in charge for missing what seemed on second look a penalty shout in the second half. Hendry Antonay’s tackle on Prabir Das was judged to have been outside the box, but the replays clearly showed that the foul had occurred a few centimetres within. It was a foolish challenge under any circumstance, and on the edge of the box after having lost his footing Hendry’s attempt was made to look even more bizarre.

The result may not have been fair to Odisha but was perhaps coming. The stats barely separate them. The possession was almost evenly split. So were the successful passes. Till the 94th minute, both teams had 11 shots on goal and both had hit the target twice. Then, in the final minute came a freekick, a Sandesh Jhingan hopeful header played square and Roy Krishna in the correct place to do the correct thing. The Habas humdinger rolls on.  

Premier League’s Bailout Package

No football league is an island. Football in a country is built as an ecosystem comprising leagues in various tiers which are independent in competition, but connected with each other by the footballing pyramid, the top tier feeding off the ones at the bottom for new talent, while the lower rungs maintain relevance and push themselves via the idea of a larger competition above them which they could be part of.

It is this all important pyramid that the Premier League is trying to keep intact by a bailout package of 250 million pounds, out of which 200 will be in the form of an interest-free loan to EFL championship sides, and 50 million for the League One and League Two sides.

The Indian Super League (ISL), a much smaller and new competition in comparison with the Premier League, is also rich in its own way. It, after all, is the top league in the country, and big business houses lead its teams. However, the ISL seems to be so caught up in its own skewed sense of grandeur and never look above or below them. As far as Indian football is concerned, the only thing which matters to the people at the helm of the game is this big show. No one is bothered about the health of the lower division sides. Football’s pyramid structure was always wobbly in India. The ISL seems to be solving that wobble by breaking the pyramid altogether.

What will happen is pretty evident. In India, the top league is being staged in a bio bubble while whatever structure for competition that was there for lower clubs is getting dismantled. It would, over time, kill the game that’s already in life support.

Talking about support, here is the details of the bailout package in England.

The rescue package was unanimously agreed by Premier League clubs during a shareholders' meeting, The EFL Board had already approved the same. 

£50 million will be available for League One and League Two clubs, with £30m being paid out immediately to all the 48 clubs in the two competitions. The proportion by which the £30m would be handed out is based on the calculated revenue loss from no gate receipts. So, the clubs in higher competition -- League One -- gets a larger chunk (£375,000). League Two clubs will get  £250,000.

The remaining £20m is called the 'Monitored Grant' which can be accessed by clubs who are expected to apply based on “need:. A panel would determine a club’s eligibility once such an application comes in. 

The 200 million worth loans mentioned in the package would be capped at £8.33m per Championship club. The clubs are expected to repay the interest-free loan amount by June 2024 using Premier League solidarity receipts or other central Premier League or EFL Distributions.

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This bailout package follows a £300m 'Winter Survival Package' issued by the Government to protect the immediate future of spectator sports in the country.

"The Premier League is a huge supporter of the football pyramid and is well aware of the important role clubs play in their communities. Our commitment is that no EFL club need go out of business due to COVID-19,” said Premier League chief executive Richard Masters.

"All football clubs continue to suffer significant financial losses as a result of the pandemic, but Premier League Shareholders today unanimously agreed to provide additional funding and support for EFL clubs in real financial distress,” he added.

"We are very pleased to have reached this agreement and we stand together with the EFL in our commitment to protect all clubs in these unprecedented times."

Arsenal Welcome Fans Back to Emirates

How important are fans to sport? In a year when they have been away, this fact has needed reminding and reasserting constantly. The lure of glitzy broadcasts, empty stadiums with encouraging messaging (often sponsored by someone marketing something) has turned global sport into plastic sport. Sure, you watch it because you need to, want to and have a desire to fill your day, but that echoing empty stadium leaves you a bit hollow. 

Indian sport may be used to empty stadiums — and it is perhaps also the reason why many of them struggle to really uplift their quality of play — but theirs is a self fulfilling loop that is a serious struggle to gain freedom from. How do you get spectators into stadiums? By making sure the product is worth the journey. How do you make the product worth it? Get people in and help the players uplift themselves. It is the Algerian love knot.

For confirmation of this truth look no further than Arsenal’s display against Rapid Vienna last night. You don’t even need to look at the full game. Just watch the first 10 minutes, and keep your eyes focussed on Alexander Lacazette, the beleaguered French striker, much maligned in the past few weeks.

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There were 2,000 fans in the Emirates last night. They were socially distanced. They looked cold.  And they did not stop singing. They felt like 20,000. In those opening 10 minutes, Lacazette, wearing the captain’s armband for the encounter, fed off their energy, and scored an opener that will be remembered as much for its quality as it will be for the release it provided the Arsenal faithful in a year they’ve needed some. 

In the 10th minute, the ball fell to the Frenchman after a bit of ping pong in midfield. He took one touch to set himself away and from 30 yards out unleashed a shot more in hope surely than intent towards goal. Except it was a shot of extreme quality, swerving enough to throw the Rapid Vienna keeper completely of balance and hit the net. 

Arsenal were ahead. The singing began and from there Arsenal kicked the gears, fluidly outplaying their opponents to win 4-1 (the one goal conceded also a firm reminder that reality is necessary at all times). The returning Pablo Mari (18’), Eddie Nketiah (44’) and Emile Smith-Rowe (66’) were among the scorers for the Gunners. Koya Kitagawa scored the Vienna’s goal in the 47th. 

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