It is often said in football that to succeed at an international level, a country needs to spot talent at a very young age – often the U-12 and U-14 age groups and then nurture them. It is a common practice in the European countries and as expected, they lead the World Rankings.
India, not to be left behind, has started a youth development program and the positives are already beginning to surface. In this feature on the youth development in India, TheHardTackle reviews the performances of the various age group teams last year and then talks about the recently concluded AIFF U-14 Football Fest held in Kalyani, besides profiling the personnel involved in the youth development in India
2011 Rewind: A Review of Performances of Age Group Teams
The U-16 team reached the finals of the first ever SAFF U-16 tournament losing to arch rivals Pakistan in the final. This set the tone for the AFC U-16 Qualifiers in Uzbekistan, where India qualified for the finals to be held later this year from a tough group featuring hosts Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Uttam Rai scored 5 goals against Kyrgyzstan and goalkeeper Supratim Bhattacharya was the hero in the SAFF cup finals when he saved two penalties against Nepal. Striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia, full back Myron Mendes and winger Raja Rawat also deserve mention for their creditable performances. The lads will be seen in action later this year, when they play in the AFC U-16 finals in Iran.
The Indian U-19 team was equally impressive when they overcame stiff competition to reach the semi-finals of the Weifang cup in China and then continued their splendid form in the AFC U-19 Qualifiers held in Iran. Despite drawn alongside Iran and the mighty Uzbeks – who had experience of FIFA U-17 World cup under their belt – the likes of Holicharan Narzary, Brandon Fernandes and Sumit Passi played their hearts out in the cold temperature of Tehran and finished a creditable third in their group.
The splendid performance by the various age group teams made AIFF take notice of them and the AIFF responded positively announcing that it would bid for the FIFA U-17 World Cup to be held in 2017, a move which would definitely encourage the budding talent in the country and could be the renaissance of Indian football.
AIFF U-14 Football fest, Kalyani
Sensing an upsurge in the country for football, the AIFF organized a U-14 Football fest in Kalyani which began on 31st January, featuring 594 kids selected from 27 states across the country with an aim to select the talented youngsters for various national and state age-group teams as well as for the AIFF regional academies across the country with the aim of building a strong team for World Cup 2018 and 2022.
The people at the helm of the command included Scot O’Donnell – Technical Manager, Regional Academies; Colm Toal – Head Coach, Youth Development Programme and Shubhankar Mukherjee, Director, National Teams. In addition, the presence of National Coach Savio Medeira and Marcus Pacheco among others as spotters underlined the importance AIFF had for the event.
The fest was held in two phases. In the first phase, 27 teams were grouped into 7 groups. 6 of those had 4 teams each and the seventh group had 3 teams. Each team played 3 matches of 30 minutes each after which the phase two started wherein the stronger teams of first phase who had performed well were grouped together and the not so stronger teams were clubbed together. The 27 teams were divided into 5 groups and each match was of 1 hour duration and it was mandatory for the teams to field a different playing eleven in either half.
The nine spotters selected a bunch of 75 boys, who are scheduled to go through an intensive training program under head coach Colm Toal and then, the 30 boys selected from these would represent India in the AFC U-14 Football Fest to be held later this year in Nepal from 10–25 May. As per the plan, these 30 boys will be joined by other talented youngsters selected from the Subroto Cup, the U-16 Nationals and the set of boys chosen by Scott O’Donell from Open Trials after which the batches for the AIFF academies will be finalized.
The Fest ended on 4th Feb with the North-Eastern states emerging as champions. Assam were the winners and were followed by Meghalaya, Manipur and Mizoram. The real winner, however, was Indian Football and there is strong belief that some of these lads will go on to match Bhutia and Chettri in the future.
Views of the Spotters: Impact on Indian Football
This is what head coach Toal had to say about the camp
“The 30 boys would then be joined by new bunch. The lot would comprise of boys chosen from the Subroto Cup, the U-16 Nationals (boys born in 1998) and the set of boys chosen by Scott O’Donell from Open Trials. The Camp would go on till mid-May form which the batches for the Regional Academies would be finalised.”
Savio Medeira lauded AIFF in their effort to spot young talent and said
“I’m acting as a spotter in the ongoing U-14 Football Fest. The All India Football Federation stays keen in stitching it right at their Youth Development Programme. The intent appealed a lot to me and when I got the call, I took less than a minute to decide that I should be here. It’s nice to see good talent who would be flag bearers of Indian Football in the future.”
The Technical Manager Scott O’Donell also sounded enthusiastic about the initiative and said
“The Fest forms an integral part of the selection for the future National Team. At the moment, we would be recruiting boys for the Regional Academies from the Fest. The quality of some boys from Mizoram and Meghalaya, have been exceptional.”
Colm Toal and Scott O’Donell: The Instructors
While the AIFF has struggled to find a coach for the senior national team, it has had to face lesser troubles at the age-group level. Colm Toal‘s contract as Chief Coach, Youth Development was extended by the AIFF last August, until 2013.
Under Toal, the Indian national teams have built a reputation as a force to reckon with in the continent. While the senior national team has struggled to win abroad, the U-16 and U-19 teams have upset the mighty Saudi-Arabia, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon among others. Colm, a father figure to the Indian lads, since his appointment in 2007, has lead a silent revolution and has kept the development of Indian Football on the right track and ensured a pipeline of Indian players for the national team highlighted by the emergence of Jewel Raja, Ralte and Raju from the age-group teams. A silent personality, in general, he chooses to let his work do the talking and the AIFF was completely justified in extending his contract.
Scott O’Donell from Australia is the Technical Manager, Regional and Elite Academies at AIFF, and has experience of coaching the national football team of Cambodia and Geylang United FC in Singapore before besides playing for several clubs in Australia.
The football fest in Kalyani was definitely a step in the right direction. While the boys chosen may not be the best in India, they are definitely talented. The AIFF needs to organize more such events to tap the potential in the country. FIFA is also doing its bit with the ‘Second Goal’ project specifically focusing on the youth-development. The rise of the likes of Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqué and Cesc Fabregas from a youth system shows that starting early is the right way in football. TheHardTackle wishes these boys luck for the future and hopes that the Indian football fans will get to see many of these boys play for the senior national team one day.