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Indian football needs prompt action

It always hurts to see India nowhere in the biggest stage of world football, writes Bhaichung Bhutia.

india Updated: Jul 15, 2006 15:32 IST

Now that the dust has settled on the World Cup extravaganza, it's time to reflect on the tournament and why football, which is such a popular game, is languishing in India, a country of a billion people.

Sadly, after all the wild enthusiasm shown by India's football-crazy fans, they had more disappointing news. FIFA, football's governing body, has just further downgraded India from an abysmal 117 to 130th position.

It always hurts to see India nowhere in the biggest stage of world football. But that's bound to be. When I see that the other countries spend more than 100 times of money and energy than India to develop football, my sadness gives way to frustration. The standards of the game is such in our country that it is now too much to expect India to make the cut in the immediate future.

I think India has not been able to make much of an impression at the international stage because of the present set-up. We have to be more professional in our approach and only then can we make some progress.

What we urgently need is good coaches at all levels. It is absolutely imperative to have quality coaches not only at the top level but at the grassroot level also.

The lack of quality coaches has been one of the reasons why India has not been able to unearth talent. I am sure there is ample talent at the grassroot level, but we should have a mechanism to discover those players.

It is time we take remedial measures. Of course, we cannot expect the results to come overnight. But at least we should have a system in place which can produce results.

I feel touched by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi's statement that he would like me to come back to the Indian team. I will wait for the team to come back from the tournament in Canada before taking a final decision. I will have a discussion with the coach and AIFF officials before I make up my mind.

To go back to the World Cup, it was marked by some excellent fooball and many upsets. One of the abiding images of this Cup sadly will be of Zinadine Zidane's head-butting of Marco Materazzi.

Italy may have won the World Cup, but I think Materazzi is a loser. The Azurri defender scored two important goals, but besmirched his reputation by the manner in which he provoked Zidane. Though it was a tactical ploy, I feel good players will never provoke opponents in the way Materazzi did. They will let their skills speak for themselves.

One would have expected Materazzi to be high on confidence after striking twice for the eventual champions during the tournament. But instead, the Italian's inferiority complex showed in the way he abused Zidane.

However, I do not hold any brief for Zidane. I am not trying to defend him for the head-butting incident. Zidane should have remembered that he was playing the World Cup final, and his side needed him so much. He should have kept his cool, and not reacted in such a manner.

I have myself been in similar situations as Zidane. These things happen in soccer. But again, good players in India do not behave like Materrazi.

I always try to ignore such things on the field. But yes, occasionally I do get provoked. When my rivals take things too far, I react. Then I meet abuse with abuse. But I have never gone to the extreme, unlike Zidane. Football is a cerebral game. Here, you have to keep your composure even in difficult moments, so that you do not invite stern action from the referee.

When I had just started playing, several times opponent defenders tried to provoke me by hurling abuses. But one positive thing about Indian football is that instances of such unseemly behaviour are coming down.

I hear that FIFA is conducting an investigation into the incident, and Zidane may be stripped of the golden ball award if found guilty. I find this surprising. Zidane was chosen for the award by the world's leading football journalists who had gone to cover the World Cup. He was selected for his extraordinary performance.

If FIFA wanted to have a say on this, then it should in the first place have laid down a set of clear-cut rules to be adhered to before deciding on the award. It should have appointed an expert panel as the jury. FIFA had never said beforehand that a player could not be considered for the award on disciplinary grounds. So, why is FIFA now trying to intervene in a matter which has been decided by journalists?

Also, there are age-old provisions for punishing on-field misbehaviour with yellow and red cards. Zidane had to leave the field after being given marching orders. Now, if he is deprived of the golden ball award, then it will amount to double punishment. 

What a great tournament Zidane had! Ten or 15 years from now, when people talk of the 2006 world Cup, they will talk of only Zidane. After 1986, when Maradona stole the show with his magical performance, no other player has dominated a World Cup as much as Zidane did this time.

Even the entire build-up to the July 9 final was around Zidane. It was billed more as a clash between Zidane and Italy, than between France and Italy.

So, the head-butting incident cannot belittle Zidane's role in the World Cup, though France may have finished runners up to Italy.

I was not at all surprised by Italy's success. I had expected them to win. Teams with strong defences have done well in the tourney. A side like Italy, that boasts of a host of outstanding defenders, is always at an advantage.

The opponent forwards, failing to break the dour resistance, end up frustrated, and commit mistakes. Also, if the team is up by a goal, the defenders can soak in the added pressure from the rivals. Fabio Cannavaro was undoubtedly the pick of the Italian rearguard.

On the other hand, Brazil's showing was very disappointing. The eternal favourites of the World Cup never got their touch. They never really hit upon the right playing combination.

Ronaldo got three goals, but he was nowhere near to even 50 per cent of his prime form. An injury-free Ronado is still deadly, but he was not fully fit. And it showed.

The Brazilians also seemed more focussed on helping Ronaldo become the highest goal scorer in Cup history, and that affected their game.

Another disappointing feature is that none of the Asian teams could make it past the opening round. After the heady success of the last edition, when co-hosts Japan and Korea did so well, the latest version must have come as a major embarrassment for the continent's football bosses.

But when the tournment is staged on European soil, the established sides have a head-start compared to the emerging nations. Most of the players, who turn out for the frontline teams, play in Europe. They found themelves on familiar terrain. This is why, except Ukraine and Portugal, the other six quarter finalists were all former champions.

The Europeans dominated as, apart from the 'home' condition, they also had their adrenaline pumping in the presence of hundreds of rauccous fans who accompanied the teams from the continent.

However, the script may be different when the Cup moves to South Africa after four years. I expect the African teams to do better. They may not finish champions, but can advance further than they did this year and pose a few problems for the top sides.

But on the whole, I enjoyed World Cup 2006. It was a neatly organised event. The general football standards were good. Apart from Trinidad and Tobago, all other sides scored. We got to see more goals.