38 of 50 boys selected for FIFA-AIFF academy scratched
Most players were chosen from sub-junior national championship and Subroto Cup. Trainees will be selected from youth leagues beginning in January.
The team from FIFA led by Arsene Wenger that visited India last month has scratched 38 of the 50 under-14 boys chosen for the academy in Bhubaneswar. Players will have to be scouted mostly from the under-13 and under-15 national leagues scheduled to start at a yet undecided date in January, 2024. It will be next June by the time all the trainees are chosen for the academy set up in a partnership between FIFA, All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the state government of Odisha.
Called AIFF-FIFA Talent Academy, the memorandum of understanding between the national football federation and Odisha was signed in the presence of Wenger, FIFA’s chief of global football development, at the academy on November 21. Before that, AIFF scouts chose 41 boys from last September’s sub-junior national championships and Subroto Cup, the inter-school tournament. Nine boys from Odisha, mostly from the state squad for the sub-junior national championship according to a state football official, completed the 50.
“So, the academy is ready but we don’t have players now,” said an AIFF official. Not authorised to speak to the media, the official did not want to be named. A coach from Spain, Sergio Fontronda, is already in Bhubaneswar. “There is a difference between the eyes of Wenger and Sergio and our scouts,” said another AIFF official who also did not want to be named.
Acting secretary-general of AIFF M Satyanarayan said June 2024 was always the target for AIFF to get all 30 trainees. “It will be a continuous process over three to four months because FIFA is very clear about the scouting process being thorough.”
“We are finalising the modus operandi of how to scout players from the youth leagues which will have teams from academies, ISL and I-League clubs,” said Satyanarayan over the phone on Tuesday. The FIFA team has conducted two workshops, one of them during Wenger’s visit, and six “super scouts” have been identified who will help AIFF spot the players, he said.
“Which is great but why not hold open trials in states known for football now that Sergio is here? Wouldn’t we get some boys that way,” asked the AIFF official who had pointed out that the academy was ready but players were not. Speaking separately Satyanarayan said, AIFF scouts had seen nearly 35 teams in the national championships so the focus would be on the youth leagues where participating teams must also clear medical age-verification test.
“The 30 players chosen by AIFF will be at the academy for 340 days a year. Our target is to get the team ready for the 2026 under-17 World Cup qualifiers,” said Satyanarayan.
When fully functional, the academy, built by the Odisha government which will also spend nearly ₹4 crore annually in running it, will have 45 boys including 15 from Odisha. Training for the boys from Odisha could start in February 2024, said Satyanarayan.
It was the Odisha government’s financial commitment that got the academy to Bhubaneswar over an I-League club which was interested but where the cost would have had to be borne by AIFF. The federation’s inability to bear running costs was one of the reasons why regional academies it set up in the 2010s folded.
Apart from Fontronda, the designated FIFA coach, there will be two assistants and one goalkeepers’ coach provided by AIFF. There will also be two physios, two team managers and two wardens working full-time. A tutor, doctor and welfare officer will also be in the support staff.