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Focus on grassroots key for us to kick ball

football Updated: Sep 15, 2013 02:06 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Clubs in the English Premier League on Thursday agreed to work with the Football Association (FA) to help produce England-qualified talent, according to the Guardian.

Trying to place this in the context of Indian football may seem as removed as Earth is from Mars unless curiosity gets you to probe further.

The circumstances are vastly different — the FA is worried that an all-time low of one-third of the players starting in the Premiership are English — but in the aftermath of the recent SAFF Championship in Kathmandu, a similar collaborative exercise wouldn’t seem out of place in India.

If anyone’s talking about this, it’s lost in the sound and fury of former players after India went down 0-2 to Afghanistan meaning south Asia had a new champion after five years. Of course, it was forgotten that Afghanistan have been ranked above India by Fifa since March 2013 and, unlike India, have qualified for the AFC Challenge Cup. Moreover, Afghanistan had seven players based in minor leagues of Europe and the USA in their starting line-up in the tournament. And yet it was their Germany-based goalkeeper Mansour Fagiryar, who was adjudged player of the tournament.

But such results will surprise India with increasing frequency unless youth development gets the attention it deserves. And here Fifa is willing to help, albeit with some controls.

Young guns need to blaze

“Over the past two years, the AIFF (All India Football Federation) has invested in youth development with regional academies but a lot still needs to be done. India needs an elite academy and a national training centre, for instance,” said Shaji Prabhakaran, Fifa’s Development Officer for south and central Asia, over the phone from New Delhi.

“Now clubs must seriously take the initiative. They have made some snazzy booklets but must now put that content into practice. The AIFF must also get the state associations to broad base youth development. Here, Fifa would be willing to help the AIFF financially,” said Prabhakaran.

After pointing out the lack of regular competition at age-group levels between 12 and 19, India coach Wim Koevermans said: “The AIFF’s grassroots programme is a big step forward. I sincerely hope India gets to host the 2017 U-17 World Cup as that would immensely benefit our grassroots programme.”

It was after a disastrous European championship in 2000 that German clubs, the national federation and Bundesliga channeled their energy into talent development. The result is there for everyone to see. If India need to take a lesson from finishing runners-up in Kathmandu, it would be the importance of pulling together in youth development.

Money matters

The I-League will also need to be stronger financially and pointing out that the current arrangements aren’t working really well, Harish Krishnamachar, India head of World Sport Group a partner of the Asian Football Confederation, said clients and sponsors are asking for alternative sporting properties.

And despite the fascination for televised European football, Krishnamachar said he is convinced there can be bigger audience for Indian football. “It is important to start getting school kids to watch the domestic leagues as well. It is an effort that needs to be made at every level ---- club, federation, commercial partners, TV partners etc.”