Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may be an unlikely ambassador for Indian football, but he has just given the game its biggest boost yet. The agreement he signed last week with Brazilian President Lula Da Silva includes a masterplan to develop football in the country with the help of Brazilian coaches. Five-time world champions Brazil currently heads the Fifa world rankings list. India’s position is at 138 among 200 countries. This could be just the inspiration for India to turn around its fortunes.
India’s hopes now rest on the shoulders of its new coach, Bob Houghton. But it will be unrealistic to expect any spectacular performances soon. Sustained tutelage from Brazilian coaches, however, will make it a whole new ball game for Indian players. It has always been one of the game’s most enduring mysteries that India — where league football was actually played long before Real Madrid or Fifa even existed — is not a leading team even in Asia, forget the world. The only plausible explanation is the arbitrary selection and the inadequate international exposure that have been the bane of Indian football since 1950, the last time India qualified for the World Cup.
There is no dearth of talent in India, but only qualified coaches at the grass-roots level will be able to tap this. Brazilian involvement, along with the AIFF’s national youth development programme, is certainly a step in this direction.