'India showed they can compete at the top level'
In an email interview to HT, Alex Soosay, the general secretary of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), spoke about India's Asian Cup show and more. Excerpts:
How did the AFC view India's performance at the Asian Cup?
In the first match (vs Australia), they were a bundle of nerves but picked momentum in the second. There are some players who posses potential. Against Bahrain, India fought till the last. South Korea, Australia and Bahrain are very strong compared to India, given their experience of playing at the top-level over the years. We wanted India to show they have the ability to compete and are not here to merely make up the numbers. They have succeeded in doing so to some extent.
India refused the chance to host the 2011 finals, saying it wasn't ready. Do you think hosting such an event can fast-track development?
India hosted the AFC Youth Championship in 2006 but the infrastructure needs to be top-notch. The AIFF is now working to develop it and, hopefully, they will be able to bid for the Asian Cup.
Four years ago, Mr Hammam (AFC president), after a visit to Kolkata football clubs, had said that with such infrastructure, India doesn't have any hope in the next 100 years. Has AFC seen any improvement since?
Yes. The AIFF has a new president in Praful Patel who has prioritised the development of infrastructure.
How important is India to AFC?
The AFC has established the Ad-hoc Committee for Professional Football in India. Its task is to ensure that India understands the AFC concepts of football development and carry them out, be it infrastructure, league, player and coach development or creating more administrators.
When all these are put in the right place, we don't see why football would fail in a country with enormous human force. Indian football used to be the pioneer, with big clubs like Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting enjoying a lot of fan following. India has enormous economic and commercial potential and with proper league structure and development of every aspect, they should only be improving.
India and China are two codes AFC can't seem to crack. Why?
China has embraced Vision Asia in a very big way and now there are provincial leagues all over the country. Leagues are the foundation on which strong national teams are based and we will be able to see the results of Vision Asia in the future. The same goes for India. The development of clubs and leagues on professional lines is very important as this then become the feeder lines for the national team. The AFC is confident that the future of football lies with China and India.