There's a lot that's keeping Leander Paes busy. He's gearing up for his Bollywood debut and is also enjoying promoting a sport that's not tennis. Having been recently announced as the Indian brand ambassador of football by All India Football Federation, the tennis star hopes that soccer would take the place of cricket in the country. He talks to CS about his love for football:
Who: Leander Paes
What: Talking about his love for football
Where: At the Bengal Club, Dadar
Football is my first love, and then comes tennis. I think I have it in my blood, since I hail from Kolkata and have Portuguese genes. While growing up, I always had this dream of coming out from an underground locker room to face thousands of soccer fans cheering for me at the World Cup final and tossing confetti all around. It is fascinating to see how one leather ball of 22 inches can unite the world. You don't need a suitable pitch condition or a weather report. All that the sport requires is players and passion.
My best Pal-le
I used to be be so passionate about soccer that I would sleep with my shoes on. After playing I would wash them so that they were sparkling clean the next morning. I was about nine years old when the Cosmos soccer team from New York came down to Calcutta at Eden gardens. Palle was in that team. He was my icon and hence, I kept pestering my dad to take me to the match. I sat through the entire match and even got to meet him through my connections. I realised that he played clean and was a gentleman on and off the field. That then became my strategy too. I feel one can be a gentleman and play rough.
Betting on Barcelona
Even today when ever I am in Madrid and have time, I go for training sessions at the Santiago Bernab �u Stadium. Once I got a chance to play with the Real Madrid team. I got to play with Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Zidane, Roberto Carlos and many others. The best part was that I got to kick some penalties against Iker Casillas. But personally I am a big fan of Barcelona because of their free flow style of playing. They are aggressive and they play very fast, just the way I play tennis. Lionel Messi is the one person I look forward to very year. Other than him I like Baichung Bhutia, I think he the flag bearer for football in India.
Forget playing, even watching football on TV is a great treat for me. I play so much tennis that at the end of the day I want to distance myself from it.