Football in India can be compared to a young boy trying to match steps with champion sprinters.
Over the past 15 years, the All India Football Federation set up permanent headquarters, facilities improved for the national teams, a modicum of professionalism was introduced in the administration, a training centre set up in Goa and the ISL got off to a fantastic start.
But given that Fifa has more members than the United Nations and that for most of them football is the No. 1 sport usually enjoying government and corporate support, everything mentioned in the first paragraph seems like drops in the ocean.
So the 1-2 defeat against Guam, a team used for target practice when they last played the World Cup qualifiers, isn’t one unexpected result. It is proof of a deeper malaise that has its roots in the lack of finance and — more importantly — lack of desire to change.
“Why don’t we get good results in football? Because we don’t do anything to produce players,” said Bhaichung Bhutia in Kolkata on Wednesday. At another point during the media interaction, he said: “If Messi was born in India, he wouldn’t have been where he is now.”
Both statements and the fact that there are only nine AFC Pro Licence coaches in India question our relationship with football.
“There is no such thing as a crisis when it comes to football or its fans,” said a report in Spain in the 1940s, nearly 70 years before their national team stopped being underachievers.
You can’t say that for India’s 11 I-League clubs. Most of them have no fan base, talk of youth development sounds like voices in the wilderness and they spend whatever little they manage by way of sponsorships on first teams.
Bengaluru FC, Pune FC and Bharat FC have shown a willing spirit to do things differently but their tribe needs to grow.
Deep pockets needed
It doesn’t help that football needs pockets deeper than most sport.
According to a report in the Guardian (May 20, 2015), only two teams, LA Lakers and New York Yankees, in the top 10 based on average yearly salary aren’t football clubs.
A club such as Bayern Munich annually spends 5 million euros (Rs 36 crore approx) on youth development, former president Uli Hoeness told a group of journalists of which HT was a part in 2011.
As much a part of Spanish football lexicon as tiki-taka is the word ‘cantera’. It means youth academies. Ditto for most countries in Africa and South America where football is often a way out of poverty.
There are also countries that take the dual nationality route to short-term success but Indian laws prohibit that.
So while Guam can get players from USA, Afghanistan can get footballers scattered across Europe and USA to don national team colours and even Pakistan can get ex-Fulham player Zesh Rahman to play, India can’t.
Since India does little or none of the above, football languishes where it is. To say that it has a long way to go would sound like understating the obvious.