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Messi and Kohli part of the ‘loyalty club’

It’s unthinkable that Lionel Messi will play club football for anyone but Barcelona. The 31-year-old moved from Argentina to Spain, and the Catalan side, in early 2001. He made his Barcelona senior debut in 2004 at 17— the fairy tale is now in its 15th year.

He has scored upwards of 400 goals for the Spanish giants and is showing no signs of slowing down.

 Messi and Kohli part of the ‘loyalty club’

Virat Kohli is the only player to have appeared for the same franchise in all 12 seasons of the IPL. Sportzpics file

Messi is the best global example of club loyalty. The primary reason for his move to Barcelona was because the Spanish club also offered to pay for Messi’s treatment for a growth hormone deficiency.

That alone might not have cemented Messi to Barcelona for life, but it has played a part in the Argentine genius refusing to look beyond Barca.

No one can choose the country of one’s birth, but for a successful professional sportsperson the avenues available are mindboggling. Almost every football club in the world would have happily broken the bank to secure Messi’s services, but they are convinced that it will be an exercise in futility. Messi and Barcelona are a match made in heaven, for eternity.

Like, say, Virat Kohli and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). The Indian captain is the only player to have appeared for the same franchise in all 12 seasons of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Kohli was snapped up by RCB in the draft for Under-19 players shortly after leading India to the U-19 World Cup title in March 2008. Since then, neither party has seen the need to part ways.

At RCB, Kohli has done more than enough as batsman and brand ambassador — if not as captain — to augment his standing. In turn, the franchise has treated Kohli with the respect, affection and care commensurate with his growing standing as the best batsman in the world. It’s been a symbiotic relationship that might not have brought the franchise the same success Messi did for Barcelona, but the partnership is a runaway hit in every other way conceivable.

A week before the 12th edition got underway, Kohli said he couldn’t envisage an IPL stint with anyone other than RCB. Kohli, who has been rewriting batting records, is a massive hit wherever he plays in the country — and often times outside India, too — but the reception he gets at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, RCB’s home ground, has to be seen and heard to be believed. It isn’t just the franchise that has been bowled over by the Kohli phenomenon, Bangaloreans took to him much before he was named Indian captain and had established himself as the best-of-the best.

Kohli has reciprocated in kind. Some of his desperation to wrap his hands around the IPL trophy must stem from wanting to put a smile on the faces of the supporters who have stood by RCB in good times and especially the bad, such as the start of this season when the team has crashed to its fourth successive defeat.

“The thing that we have been able to do in the last ten years is create a fan base which is impossible to create if you are striving for things that are not real,” Kohli said towards the middle of March. “That has happened purely because of the spirit with which we played our cricket. We’re not going to be here after a few years, none of us can be here forever. But, RCB will remain for a long, long time. To me, it has been a most special experience. I don’t see myself leaving or playing for any other franchise.”

If he had his way, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, too, would not have played for anyone but Chennai Super Kings (CSK). Flowing locks and a World T20 crown under his belt, Dhoni arrived in the southern metropolis as an enigma, a rough diamond in 2008. It didn’t take him long to have Chennai eating out of his hand. The immense, and immensely loyal, CSK fan base is largely due to the larger-than-life presence of thala, whose journey from a rustic talent to a polished gem has been soul-stirring.

The web series Roar of the Lion lays threadbare Dhoni’s emotional connect with the yellow of CSK and with its unwavering supporters who have enjoyed far more success than RCB. When Dhoni donned the purple and orange of Rising Pune Supergiant for the two years that CSK were suspended from the IPL, while there was no compromise on cricketing excellence, it was clear his heart wasn’t really in it.

“I will be lying if I say that I have moved on,” Dhoni admitted in 2016. “I cannot suddenly say that I am very excited to play for a new team. It will be wrong if I don’t give credit to CSK and the people of Chennai for the last eight years of love and affection that they have given to the team and me. I have the emotional connect.”

Money, and other things material, can buy the services of a professional, but it takes a lot more to attract and retain his loyalty. Barcelona, RCB and CSK have managed both with aplomb, with no little help from their fans.

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Updated Date: Apr 05, 2019 12:47:14 IST

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