A country of one billion now has one academy conceptualised by its football body. To say that it's a drop in the ocean would be understating the obvious.
That it took 75 years for the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to get an academy up and running, at a school in Navi
Mumbai, also tells its own story.
Lack of foresight on successive generations of administrators has left the football with so much catching-up to do that even making a beginning looks difficult.
Widespread age-fudging messed up the federation's long process of selecting boys for its four regional academies. Boys were spotted from the under-16 national championship, the Subroto Cup, an under-14 festival and a series of open trials. The final pool of 170 were pruned to 120 when the AIFF was dealt with a sucker punch. The birth certificates and endorsements of respective state associations which claimed the boys were under-14 and under-16 couldn't be backed by MRI tests and 84 were found to have lied about their age.
If that wasn't bad enough, the boys remaining made for a lopsided composition when it came to playing positions. All this sent the plan to have four regional academies by March 31, 2011, for a six. And that's not all.
There federation is still in the process of firming up match schedule for these boys once they settle down. It wouldn't help if they played sundry Mumbai schools but a support staff suggested regularly playing U-19 teams from Mumbai as a way out.
The 20 boys in the first AIFF-FIFA academy also have education issues. They come from different states such as Assam, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Bengal and Kerala, and from schools affiliated to different boards and not all are comfortable with either English or Hindi. The school and the AIFF must now figure out how these boys in standards 9 and 10 will manage their academics.
A coach who has worked with the elite Australian Institute of Sport, his assistant who starred for India in the 90s seem like good recruitments along with a physio and goalkeepers' coach. The AIFF is also committed to spending R5000 per day on upkeep of the pitches. But it will have to be seen whether diet, medicine and scientific support are good enough for this to be a model in south Asia which is what the first-of-its-kind federation-backed academy in the region should be.
The plan to have eight regional academies and two elite academies by 2015 is laudable but that would mean expenses of over R20 crore per annum. Part of it will be funded by FIFA but if the AIFF has a plan of generating the rest, it isn't public yet.
It is also true that clubs do little or nothing for youth development. If the AIFF can put in place a structure for youth development, it will be enormous. Navi Mumbai will then be an important small step.
© Copyright © 2013 HT Media Limited. All Rights Reserved.