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Red Devils descend on football-mad Kochi

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Know Your Team - Kerala Blasters (0:42)

Two-time ISL runners up Kerala Blasters will aim to go all the way in the 2017 edition (0:42)

For the third time in less than a year, I find myself landing at the Cochin International Airport during the early hours of the day, all set to cover another weekend of potentially exciting football. After the 2016 Indian Super League (ISL) final and the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup, you would think Kochi would be tired of football, but, well, you'd be wrong.

This time it's the ISL 2017 opener, between Kerala Blasters and ATK and the bigger story there is the Manchester United reunion: Dimitar Berbatov and coach Rene Meulensteen in Kerala yellow, Teddy Sheringham and Wes Brown in ATK's red and white. To mark the occasion, I fix my headphones over my ears and press play on Sympathy for the Devil.


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Unsurprisingly, there is a sea of yellow outside the Stadium Round, fans presumably trying their best to find last-minute tickets for Friday's glitzy opener (I didn't offer). A few ATK shirts can also be spotted, but for the most part they're drowned out by dozens of CK Vineeths and hundreds of Berbatovs.

The pressers begin. Kerala go first, with Sir Alex Ferguson's long-time trusted assistant Rene Meulensteen tackling questions about fielding Malayali players, getting one over ATK, and the future of the ISL.

It's a mostly riveting session, with answers ranging from the shockingly generic - "we need to score more goals than the opponents to win" - to the generically shocking - "football is played in two boxes". The journalists hastily scribble down a few usable quotes and start contemplating potential headlines and story ideas, even as Meulensteen takes leave.

There is a brief battle between the mind and the heart as the Manchester United fan in me is torn whether or not to approach Meulensteen and thank him for all his service at Old Trafford.

Thankfully, the senior, responsible journalist in me wins and sense prevails. With good reason too, because it's important in a press conference to be calm, collected and compo...

Oh my god, oh my god, it's Teddy Sheringham. Manchester United legend Teddy Sheringham has just entered the room.

Ssshhh, heart.

The ATK coach arrives next, and is here to give a serious update about his team ahead of tomorrow's game. In my head, I frame some clever questions about the nature of his tactics, how he'll cope without marquee player Robbie Keane, and his experience since coming to Ind...

Ask him about 1999! Ask him about that goal! Ask him about the treble!!

Sheringham answers each and every journalist's question patiently, and next it's going to be my turn. I prepare the words in my head...

Just stand up and scream, "Can Manchester United score? They always score..."

I will ask him about his plan for thwarting the threat of Berbatov on Friday. I will ask him about his plan for thwarting the threat of Berbatov on Friday. I will ask him about...

Tell him you're his biggest fan, don't be afraid

"Err...umm.. Hey, Teddy, errr...Hey, umm, how do you plan on thwarting the threat of Berbatov tomorrow?" *phew*

Sheringham throws a quick smile, and begins to explain how he's a "big fan" of Berbatov, but hopeful that his "defensively sound" unit can stop all the "skills and tricks". Deep down, Sheringham knows that's the best, most creative and insightful question he has ever been asked in his career, and decides to leave on that high.

You coward, you blew it.

Press conference over, I immediately remove the journalist credentials from my neck and put it aside. This time, I chase after him as the crowd disperses, and shake his hand.

"All the best for tomorrow, Teddy."

He nods nonchalantly at me.

".. and on behalf of all United fans, thank you for 1999."

He nods once again, but this time, he also breaks into a big smile.

Well done, I'm proud of you.

I bask briefly in this monumental personal success, and then head back over to my computer, credentials right back on the neck. Right back to work.

The season has not even begun, and there has already been more fireworks and last-minute drama than I can handle.

But, I wouldn't have it any other way.