India has abundant talent at the Under-16 level but the youngsters need proper grooming to transform them into national side prospects, AIFF technical director Colin Toal said on Thursday.
Toal was in charge when India finished second in AFC Under-16 qualifiers (Group C) at Dammam in Saudi Arabia to make it to the final round in Uzbekistan (October 4-19).
"I was not surprised at all at our performance in the qualification tournament. We have a good bunch of players and the important thing is to ensure that they keep improving," Toal said at the sidelines of the inauguration of the India Finals of the Manchester United Premier Cup here.
Toal said it is very difficult to predict how such young players will develop with age.
"At 15-16 years of age, players change all the time. They develop physically very rapidly at this stage. One may find that a youngster, who was not so competitive eight or nine months ago, become stronger and better while some find it difficult to cope with a higher age group," he said.
The Irishman, assistant to national coach Bob Houghton, is responsible for the senior side's feeder system by spotting promising youngsters who could be drafted at the top level.
Now that India has qualified for the AFC U-16 championship, they will be up against the 16 best teams of the continent in Uzbekistan.
Toal said it was not advisable to put too much pressure on the youngsters.
"It (AFC U-16 championship) is a huge step up for these players. But results are not the most important thing at this level is to progress and become better players.
"Of course, if they finish among the top three in Uzbekistan, they qualify for the world championship. The main issue was to maintain their enthusiasm and interest with constant encouragement," he said.
Toal has called a preparatory camp from February 1 in Goa and it will include the 23 players who went to Dammam as well as those at the fringes of selection who have improved with time.
"We can compare these players and select the squad to take to Uzbekistan," he said.
The senior probables will, meanwhile, assemble on April 1 to prepare for the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup to be held in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
The U-16 players will disperse in the middle of March for their examinations and will reassemble in the beginning of May and will be together till the AFC championships.
Toal's vision is to produce good players for drafting into the senior side to help raise its standard.
"It is no good playing a match or two at the senior level. They should aspire to be permanent members of the national side and help it move up at the international level," he added.