Matter of time before Indians start playing abroad: Houghton

Sunil Chhetri may have failed to make it to Coventry City but national football coach Bob Houghton believes it is only a matter of time that Indian players move on to greener pastures outside the country.

sports Updated: Feb 06, 2009 18:54 IST

Sunil Chhetri may have failed to make it to Coventry City but national football coach Bob Houghton believes it is only a matter of time that Indian players move on to greener pastures outside the country.

"Indian football is definitely making its mark and it won't be long before the first player goes (to foreign clubs) and does well and then many more will follow," Houghton said.

"When I went to China in 1998 there were no Chinese players playing outside of China and after eight years there were seven or eight that played in (English) Premiership. So once clubs become aware that there are good Indian players then they will take more of them," he said.

Triumph at last year's AFC Challenge Cup helped India qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup and Houghton said a good show in Qatar would help rise the profile of the game in the country and give confidence that it can qualify for the World Cup in near future.

"I hope it works as a catalyst for further strides ahead. It (The AFC Challenge Cup) was a big success but what's required now is that it acts as an incentive for players to work harder and be better players.

"If we perform poorly then we are back to square one but if we give a good account for ourselves against the best teams in Asia then it will raise the portfolio of the game and give us some belief that we can qualify for World Cup," the former Fulham midfielder, who took Swedish club Malmo to European Cup final in 1979, told the AIFF website.

"There is a big challenge that is January 2011 and which is just less than two years from now on when we play in the Asian Cup finals. In between we need to get the team well prepared as we can."

The 61-year-old hugely experienced Englishman, who has coached national teams of China and Uzbekistan besides some top teams in Asia and Europe, said India has made progress from the time he took the reigns 20 months ago.

"We have made some progress if you compare it from some years ago. We were 163 and now we are 142 in FIFA rankings and we have advanced in Asian circuit as well as we have moved from 27 to 20. We have qualified for the Asian Cup finals so in that regard we have made progress.

"Also if you look at the results though we recently lost to Hong Kong but that was our second defeat in 17-18 matches. So I think we have made progress with the senior team. And also we have made some good progress with the junior teams. Performance by Under-16 team last year was also spectacular. In all levels we are making progress," he said.

Houghton though was disappointed with poor facilities in the country.

"Infrastructure, well unfortunately in this country is almost nonexistent for football. There are very few quality stadiums and training grounds. I hope FIFA's 'Win in India with India Project' help in developing some good facilities."

Houghton has played a big role in the launch of I-League on the lines of J-League in Japan and he is happy that his brainchild has improved a lot.

"It has improved a lot as compared to previous editions. If Indian football has to move forward then we need I-League to be the engine because the national team will only be good when players are coming from the League," said Houghton.

Asked about his pet idea of spotting taller and fitter players, he said it would take time.

"We have been getting some bigger players in the team though it is not happening quickly. We will get some bigger boys and in current team also we have some bigger boys."

Football lovers and experts would worry who would replace aging stars like captain Bhaichung Bhutia but Houghton does not see any problem with youngsters coming in.

"Sunil (Chhetri) would be around as he is young. It is the job of all coaches to prepare the team in a way that new ones can replace the old ones. But are the ones coming behind capable of doing the job is what we have to see. We will be working hard with the U-19 team, the (U-21) Olympic team that will provide some base to them.

"I am watching a lot of youngsters on regular basis in the I-League. It is for younger ones to push themselves for reckoning and perform if they get a chance. The challenge is for everybody, for youngsters to make their way into the team and those who are in the team to perform and remain there.

"There are few I have identified. When we played in Hong Kong, Rakesh Masih made his debut and he was good and the good thing is Anthony Pereira has come back from his injury. Sushil Kumar Singh and Nirmal Chhetri are few who can make it but everything would depend on their performance."

First Published: Feb 06, 2009 18:51 IST