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FIFA U-17 World Cup: Meeting of the world’s best football teens

Many playing in the FIFA U-17 World Cup won’t make the transition from being a young star to becoming a top pro but should they, India will be a reference point for where it started.

fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 05, 2017 23:42 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
FIFA U-17 World Cup,FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017,Vinicius Jr
Jadon Sancho has joined the England squad for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India, but will only be available for the group stages.((Twitter/ Esport Village‏))

Vinicius Jr will be conspicuous by his absence for no one among the 503 footballers here for the FIFA U-17 World Cup has been deemed worthy of a 45 million euro investment. Yet.

But, as any coach would say in the absence of a top gun, this is also an opportunity for others to get noticed.

So step forward Josh Sargent, Abel Ruiz, Amine Gouiri, Angel Gomez, Mohammed Dawood and Jadon Sancho among others. Or someone the world does not know much about. Such as Komal Thatal who is the only Indian to have scored against Brazil in an international. Or Ghanaian goalie Ibrahim Danlad, who is still not 15.

(Read | FIFA U-17 World Cup: Ignore European champions Spain at your own peril)

“The World Cup is a great experience,” said Mexico coach Mario Arteaga on Thursday and the man for whom this will be the second FIFA U-17 World Cup was perhaps understating the obvious.

“If you want to go to Real Madrid, then this is your opportunity. All the big scouts and agents will be watching,” Colombian great Carlos Valderrama said last month during a visit to India.

(Read | FIFA U-17 World Cup: Kargil War heroes inspire Indian football team)

First signs of greatness

Nicolai Adam may not be a very popular man in India now but when he was the national under-17 coach, he had said the level of football in this competition would be amazing. After seeing three FIFA U-17 World Cups live, the German had said he wouldn’t be good enough to be a ball boy at this level!

Adam had also said this is where the first signs of greatness are visible, explaining why it would be exciting to be part of this World Cup. True, at this age Pele had won the first of his three World Cups, but then that is also why he is said to be the world’s most famous four-letter word.

(Read | FIFA U-17 World Cup: Mexico arrive in Kolkata after training camp in Spain)

So, five or seven years down the line there could be an addition to the 12 who have won this and a men’s World Cup. It’s an elite club that has Ronaldinho, Mario Goetze, Toni Kroos, Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon.

And when that happens, India will become a reference point for where it all started. Just like the Salt Lake stadium is with Lionel Messi and the Argentina captain’s armband. Or the Eden Gardens is with Uruguayan Enzo Francescoli’s international goals.

In the mix here is Brazil’s Lincoln who has been tipped to be a No 9 to watch out for by none other than Zico. “He’s devilish!” Zico has been quoted as saying of the Flamengo player in The Guardian. Also, here is Paulinho who is said to be Philippe Coutinho in the making.

(Read | FIFA U-17 World Cup: Jadon Sancho adds to England’s attacking options)

The Adu syndrome

Countinho and Neymar played in the 2009 edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup and Brazil crashing out in the group stages is proof that not everyone is a star at this age and stage. Kaka too was a late bloomer, according to a coach with the Sao Paulo team on a tour of India in 2007.

(Read | FIFA U-17 World Cup: Don’t expect it to usher in a football renaissance in India)

In 2009, Dominic Adiyah impressed enough at the FIFA U-20 World Cup to get a contract with AC Milan. Now 27, the Ghanaian striker plays in Thailand.

Perhaps the biggest example of a wunderkind who never lived up to potential is Freddie Adu. At 14, he was the youngest athlete in the USA to have a professional contract. At 28 now, he doesn’t have a club.

Such high attrition levels are not just in football. Only Virat Kohli has made the transition from being an under-19 World Cup champion in 2008 to one on whom greatness sits lightly.

“Development at this level is a continuous process and needs constant monitoring. Many of these players may not even be playing professionally after this. It is not just about talent,” said Shaji Prabakaran, a former FIFA Development Officer.

Irrespective of whether they make it as professional footballers, playing the World Cup is an experience they will savour for long.

This, after all, is a competition involving the world’s best football teens.

First Published: Oct 05, 2017 17:42 IST