Why can’t a nation of a billion-plus play football? | football | Hindustan Times
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Why can’t a nation of a billion-plus play football?

Unless you live in cuckoo land or have been vanquished in the battle of the remote control by your partner, chances are you would be asking this question over the next four weeks: why oh why can’t India play World Cup football?

football Updated: Jun 12, 2010 23:12 IST
Dhiman Sarkar

Unless you live in cuckoo land or have been vanquished in the battle of the remote control by your partner, chances are you would be asking this question over the next four weeks: why oh why can’t India play World Cup football? India would have 172 not-good-enough nations for company, but that fun fact is unlikely to comfort you. Not all of those 204 countries who figured in the more than two-year World Cup finals qualification cycle have the kind of resources India does. We, I’m told, are an emerging economic power, have a stable government and — it boils down to this statistical bumper sticker — a billion-plus population.

Well, so does China and though they outstrip the world in most Olympic sports, they haven’t, succeeded at football. Yet. India’s shot at the 2010 finals lasted one round and ended even while the last World Cup in Germany was fresh in our minds: in November 2006. That was all the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) quixotic qualification process permitted.

Funds and infrastructure are two of Indian football’s biggest impediments. Consider this: last month Tony Adams, the former Arsenal and England central defender, joined a little-known Azeri club Gabala FC as coach for a reported annual salary of Rs 8 crore. This kind of money is unheard of in Indian football and we are talking Azerbaijan here, not a top-line football country. The kind of money required to get noticed in football, even at the Asian level, simply doesn’t exist in India. Not in football, anyway. Three years after FIFA president Sepp Blatter exhorted desi industry captains to invest in football, Mahindra United, a team bankrolled by a corporate group, disbanded. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is still dependent on its president’s political connections to run the show.

Clubs invest little or nothing in youth development — I-League champions Dempo being the exception to the rule — marketing, community involvement or professionalising staff. Their budgets go in trying to build a team for the season.

Shaji Prabhakaran, now a vice-president of a company that helps build football stadia, is a former director with the Vision India programme set up by the AFC to give the game a leg-up in India. He believes that the I-League isn’t competitive enough and apart from Sunil Chhetri, no Indian plays outside the country. “Quality and competitiveness of the league also decides its overall revenue-generation capacity,” he says. In other words, it’s the old chicken-egg-conundrum: because we can’t play good football, no one wants to put money in the sport; and because no one puts money in football, no one’s good at it. India has some 1,500 football coaches, which is 1 per cent of what it should be if we were serious about the sport.

Remember that the notion of Brazilians being ‘natural footballers’ is as accurate as Mamata Banerjee being a Marxist. Brazil exports footballers. To get into a football academy in Brazil and make it as a footballer is as difficult as getting into the IITs. The World Cup has a passionate following in India. As a nation, we do little to translate armchair passion into credible performance.