The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is exploring options of sending some boys from its under-18 academy team to either Europe or Brazil for training. The first-of-its-kind initiative would be for six months, broken into two equal segments with the AIFF picking up the tab.
For this, AIFF general secretary Kushal Das will go to Ligue 2 club FC Metz in France after Friday’s Fifa president’s election in Zurich. The AIFF has also sounded out Brazilian top tier club Atletico Paranaense with whom it has an agreement from November 2014. Approaching the German federation DFB, with whom the AIFF inked a partnership deal last April focusing on youth development, among other things, too is an option, said Das.
“We are looking to send three to four boys abroad for at least six months. As a pre-requisite, the boys would have to be part of the clubs’ youth system and not on the fringes of their football activities. The whole project would cost the AIFF a little over $60,000 (approximately Rs 41.24 lakh). We are looking at around $3000-$4000 per player per month,” Das told HT in Kolkata earlier in the week.
India midfielder Dipendra Singh Negi, 18, is now a trialist in Spain. From the next batch at the AIFF Elite Academy, midfielder Anirudh Thapa, left-back Jerry Lalrinzuala, central defender Amit Tudu and utility player Prasenjit Chakraborty are frontrunners for this training stint.
“I have seen these players from when they were 14 years as I was the India coach for them till they crossed 16. We did well in a tournament in Japan in 2012 and that boosted their confidence. Next year, they were unbeaten SAFF champions. In 2014, they missed out qualifying for the Asian U-16 finals on goal difference.
The phase between 19 and 23 is perhaps the most crucial in the development of a professional footballer and I am confident some of these players have it in them to survive abroad,” said Gautam Ghosh, former international and India coach. Ghosh is now technical officer in Bengal as part of the Fifa-funded states’ project.
Winners of the two under-18 I-Leagues to be held, the AIFF Elite Academy is now playing the IFA Shield in Kolkata. They have made the semi-finals with a round to spare following three successive wins including one against an under-19 team from Malaysia.
But with there being no transition league for players over 18 and the qualification cycles of the Asian under-19 competitions happening biennially, these boys face an uncertain future.
“AFC only conduct the U16 and U19 Championships every second year, which means some age-groups (such as this batch born in 1998) miss out… Which is why we have kept the 1998 boys together for as long as possible playing in the U18 I-League, the IFA Shield, and some of the younger boys played in the Subroto Cup last year,” AIFF technical director Scott O’Donell told HT on e-mail.
Nine players born in 1998 will be released by the academy this year and, for lack of options, most would join senior teams of I-League clubs. Asked whether some could get lost in the first team environment, O’Donell said that it is a concern. “But there are some very talented boys in this squad, who, if given a chance, with continued good coaching and support, would not let anyone down.
Quite a few of the previous U19 team have been signed by I-League clubs. BFC (Bengaluru FC) and SLFC (Shillong Lajong) have given these boys a chance. It is now up to the boys to prove to their respective coaches that they are good enough,” he said.
And though O’Donell clarified he wasn’t recommending it, he said the Arrows team in the I-League did bridge the gap. Disbanded after three years in 2013 for lack of support and also because meeting licensing criteria would be a challenge, the Pailan Arrows was an under-23 all-Indian team in the I-League.
Asked whether Thapa, Lalrinzuala, Tudu and Chakraborty can make the grade abroad, O’ Donell said: “That will up to the clubs to decide but we are doing our best to ensure we give them every opportunity to reach their potential.”