In November 2010, Mr. Kushal Das was appointed as the General Secretary of the All India Football Federation (AIFF). Almost an year and a half into his job, TheHardTackle’s resident author Rahul Bhutani (RB hereafter) accompanied by another Indian Football enthusiast Aritra Gupta (AG herafter) got a chance to discuss with him his plans and vision for Indian Football.

The interview covers a wide range of topics from the National team and its performance to the I-League and the controversies regarding the youth development program. Mr. Das patiently answered questions that explored the whole set up of Youth Development and future plans of the AIFF. The following is an unedited excerpt of the interview:

RB: Sir, first of all, let me begin by thanking you for allocating your precious time to catch up with TheHardTackle.

Mr. Das: My Pleasure

AG: What made you leave the job at ICC and join AIFF??

Mr. Das: There are a lot of challenges at AIFF and it is my vision to take India to the next level. I am at a stage in life where challenges invigorate me.

RB: Starting off with Sepp Blatter’s visit, how important do you think was this visit for India?

Mr. Das: Extremely Important. The main purpose of the visit was to explain to President Blatter what we are doing in respect of player development and our overall vision. As we are bidding for the 2017 U-17 World Cup, he wanted to be sure of the government’s support and met both the Prime Minister and the President, who have assured him of their support.

RB: Has the Government’s attitude towards football changed after Sepp’s visit?

Mr. Das: The government is supportive and the Sports Minister has publicly stated that a lot of emphasis will be given to developing football. FIFA requires certain assurances in terms of Security and Tax-Exemption before a event is allotted to a nation. We expect the Government to give the necessary guarantees so that we are successful in our bid to host the U-17 World Cup.

RB: We also heard that India is going to bid for the FIFA Club World Cup in 2015.  Is that true?

Mr. Das: FIFA wanted us to make a bid for the Club World Cup in 2015, but I think it maybe be tough for India to host that. We will need to build new stadiums for that. We will need to improve infrastructure for 2017 U-17 World cup as well, but the standards in terms of infrastructure will be higher for the Club World Cup and it is difficult to host it with the current infrastructure.

RB: One of the regional academies will start in Mumbai from 1st May. What other regions are being targeted next?

Mr. Das: We are planning to open the regional academy in Bangalore by June this year. There was a plan to open one in the NCR region as well, but we might shift that and open one in Shillong because of wider talent pool from that region.

 

AIFF General Secretary Mr. Kushal Das

AIFF General Secretary Mr. Kushal Das

 

AG: Do you think the next big player in Indian Football will come from the bigger cities or are they more likely to come from the smaller regions like the North East?

Mr. Das: Historically, if you see the best players have come from the smaller and economically weaker regions. You need fire in your belly to play football on a continuous basis and be successful as it is such a physical sport. I see that trend continuing with a lot of players coming in from the North-East. Bengal/Goa obviously still have talent. Another region which can give us good players is the Jharkhand Tribal belt.

RB: Some of the U-16 boys are training in the IMG academy in Florida. The U-16 team also is scheduled to participate in the AFC U-16 Championship in November this year. So, what plans has the AIFF chalked out?

Mr. Das: 14 boys from the U-16 team are training in Florida and the rest of the selected boys are training in a camp in Goa. Once these boys come back from Florida around June-July, there will be a final team selection and a consolidated camp in Goa.

RB: Are you hopeful of a good performance from these boys or are the hopes modest considering we will be playing top Asian Nations?

Mr. Das: We are definitely hopeful of a good performance from these boys, but this is only a small batch. Sending 14 boys for a training camp won’t help. We need a feeder system in place wherein year after year we get good players and that is what our youth-development program aims at – to setup such a feeder system.

AG: Could you tell us more about these feeder systems? Also, how many children are you planning to groom per academy?

Mr. Das: We are planning to set up 8 regional academies which will groom children in the age group of 14-16 and two elite academies in the age-group of 16-18. The boys for the elite academies will be chosen from the regional academies. Each regional academy will have 30-35 boys. The plan is to start 8 regional academies and 2 elite academies by 2015.

So, there will be around 250-300 boys training in these AIFF academies in a curriculum designed by our technical director Mr. Rob Baan which will be consistently followed in all the academies. I should also add that the AIFF is paying for the education of the boys in the academies.

AG: Can you tell us a bit more about the talent scouting for these academies?

Mr. Das: We organized an U-14 fest at Kalyani and we looked at players in the Subroto Cup as well as the Mir-Iqbal Trophy, which was an U-15 tournament. We also did open scouting in places like Goa, Kerala, Bengal, Mizoram and Delhi. A major blow, however, was that out of the 125 boys shortlisted about 80 of them turned out to be overage.

RB: The U-20 I-League has just started. Don’t you think it should be a year round affair?

Mr. Das: Absolutely, it should be. Just like in every developed football nation where U-19 League goes hand in hand with the senior League, we should have such a League. But to conduct a 6-8 month U-19 League it costs a lot of money and the federation at the moment doesn’t have the resources. Hopefully, with time we should be able to get sponsors to start such a league.

RB: Shouldn’t the U-20 League be a much broader affair with teams like JCT, SESA Academy and TFA playing. Why restrict it just to the I-League clubs?

Mr. Das: Currently, the U-20 league is only for I-league teams but we can consider including some of these academies. In fact TFA is interested in playing in the I-League division-2 next year. The only problem is that clubs need to fulfill AFC licensing criteria to play in both the I-League as well as I-League Division 2. This is needed for the I-League to be recognized as a professional league. The problem with TFA is that they need to create a separate legal identity to be able to participate.

RB: What are your views on the performance of Arrows this year? After Desmond Blupin left, the team was winless this year?

Mr. Das: The performance has been disappointing because  6-7 important players left the team to join their clubs and we had to create a whole new team. While Blupin was a good coach, we were convinced that the style of play adopted by him was not suitable and that is why we have brought in Rob Baan to guide us to develop the right style of play. Rob is also involved in developing the Pailan side for next season and we may bring in a foreign coach.

RB: The national team was disappointing in the AFC Challenge cup. What do you think went wrong? Has any decision been taken on Savio’s future?

Mr. Das: I know we have dropped to 165 in the world, but to my mind, whether its 140 or 165 is not the main issue.. The important issue is that we need a proper youth development program in place to groom players so that we are consistently able to perform at the highest level and eventually qualify for the World Cup. We haven’t yet taken a decision yet on the national coach but we will take a decision in the next month or so.

RB: Is Rob Baan going to play a role in selection of the new coach?

Mr. Das: Rob Baan is involved with creating the whole philosophy of Indian Football and he will be  actively involved in appointment of the new coach. The youth development, however, stays the priority and we are looking at getting foreign coaches for the academies. Scott’O Donnell and Rob Baan are also trying to groom young talented Indian coaches for our academies.

RB: We’ve heard that to mark 75 years of establishment of AIFF, a grand Nehru Cup is being planned. Which nations have been confirmed and when is the event being held?

Mr. Das: The Nehru cup is being planned to be held in August and we plan to invite some African countries and East European countries for the event, although no invites have been sent as yet.

RB: Does the AIFF have a target in plan with the Asia cup or the 2018 WC in mind or even the WC 2022?

Mr. Das: The academy program is the road-map. The regional academies will contribute 60-70 players to the elite academies and these players will form the pool for future national teams

RB: What is the way forward for institutional sides like Air India and ONGC on the licensing issue?

Mr. Das: The institutional sides like Air India and ONGC will have to convert themselves into legal entities to fulfill the licensing criteria. They might be given some more time to convert but ultimately, they will have to convert or otherwise the I-League will not be recognized as a professional league and this might cost India a slot in AFC Champions League.

RB: Are there plans to lay more artificial turfs or build more stadiums?

Mr. Das: The federation doesn’t have the resources to lay artificial turfs. With the help of FIFA, we laid about 8 artificial turfs in India but the stadiums have to be developed and built by the state governments and the government agencies as they are the owners.

RB: Is there a relevance of an event like Santosh Trophy in terms of scouting of talent?

Mr. Das: The potentially good talents are already scouted by the I-League clubs and contracted. In that sense, the Santosh Trophy might only throw an odd player or two. India is one of the few countries to have such a tournament. Otherwise, the players for the Senior Team are generally are scouted from the national league in other countries.

 

AIFF General Secretary Mr. Kushal Das with THT's Resident Author Rahul Bhutani

AIFF General Secretary Mr. Kushal Das with THT's Resident Author Rahul Bhutani

 

RB: Coming to the I-League. If Chirag get relegated, then we may have no representation from South India. Does that worry you? Also, are their plans to increase the number of teams for next season?

Mr. Das: That is a big problem but IMG Reliance is planning to come up with a plan that will have more representation from all parts of the country. The number of teams may go up based on the overall plan .

RB: Do you think the standards in I-League have gone up this year? Savio recently remarked that foreign strikers should be banned in India. What are your views on this?

Mr. Das: Holding the matches in the evening has definitely helped the pace of the game to increase, but most of the clubs rely on foreign players to win matches. The foreign striker debate has been going for some time but the clubs also have a point and they believe that the foreign strikers like Odafa and Ranty attract a lot of people to the stadium and this helps them earn money, which is right from their perspective. So, we are planning to continue this model till we come up with a new plan.

RB: IMG Reliance had to come up with a model till 20th of this month. Is there any progress on that?

Mr. Das: They have requested for more time and probably, by mid-May they will come up with their plan.

RB: Are you happy with the way the way Division-2 has gone ahead? There is notion among certain people that AIFF was favoring Baichung and his club?

Mr. Das: It is actually been a good division 2, but there will always be some controversies. It is ridiculous to suggest that AIFF was  favoring anyone. If we were, we would not have waited till the last match to ensure United Sikkim go through. However, it is good that Sikkim have been able to develop a  good team so quickly. Even the performances of teams like Aizwal FC and Royal Wahingdoh were quite encouraging, despite they being smaller clubs and it shows that if you do it the right way you are bound to succeed.

RB: How was your experience at the Soccerex Forum you recently attended?

Mr. Das: Soccerex was a forum for discussions and there was an Indian Session which was well attended. A lot of people had a lot of questions, especially on PLS and they seemed to think that the AIFF was conducting an IPL style new league rather than the fact that this was a district league organized by IFA.

RB: The PLS has not taken off. You are not surprised with that?

Mr. Das: I am not surprised. I think the viability of the model is a little suspect. I cant imagine how a few retired world cuppers playing with district players in fairly poor infrastructure can create any sustainable interest and become commercially viable. However, I do think that a developmental district league does make sense and if done properly can augment the I-League and talent scouting process.

AG: With this feeder system in place, when can we expect to have a national team that has come in through this process?

Mr. Das: It will take time; a minimum of 5-7 years, but we have to be patient and realistic .

RB: Is qualifying for Asia Cup 2015 a target?

Mr. Das: It definitely is, but it is not going to be easy given that a lot of senior players have retired. It is a transitional period but we hope to qualify 

Rapid fire

Favorite Indian Player(s) (Current): Nabi and Chettri

Favorite Indian Player(s) (All time): IM Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia and Subhash Bhowmick

Favorite Player: Messi

Favorite Club: Manchester United

RB: Thanks a lot sir, for taking out your time and joining us!

Mr. Das: Thanks

 —-

TheHardTackle would like to thank Prof. Amitabha Tripathi, IIT Delhi for his help in setting up the interview and Aritra Gupta for his help in conducting the interview.

  • wangs

    I really loved going through it. Awesum sir..u r doing great for Indian football. But the only thing which we Indian football fans were pissed of was AFC challenger cup. India’s performance was so so poor that it pulled back India’s ranking to 165??????? Please bring some good foreign coach or at least Armando sir as his vision, style of coaching etc is too good. Remember how India faired well against Qatar etc during his tenure. And yeah..please we want a good international stadium in the NE..might be in shillong..its a request.

    Indian football lover!

    • Rahul Bhutani

      Thanks Glad you liked it :) We hope there is good stadium in NE Soon

  • Great job, Rahul! Keep it up!

    • Rahul Bhutani

      Thanks Glad you liked it :)

  • Abhik

    Thanx Rahul n thanx Mr. Das 4 ur valuable time u gave,we do hv faith in U n we hope that 2gther we cn Cheer 4 India in d World Cup.. n Rahul kip up d good work, w8ng 4 more such interviews especially 4m Mr. Baan or IMG-Reliance wud be a gud 1..

    • Rahul Bhutani

      Thanks Glad you liked it :) We would definitely be carrying on and bring to you more interviews Stay Tuned

  • Suave

    What about allowing POI’s to play for India. Are these AIFF people so stupid . If we would have allowed PIO’s Chopra , Harmeet and all we would have qualified for Asia cup rather than sitting here and commenting on things like no artificial turf coz of no money . Imagine sponsors woul have started pouring over money . Sports thrive on starts and why is he simply saying PLS is not sustainable model .First time I started seeing interest in Indian and forein media becuase of this. We need to market game properly and this the time to support these initiatives rather than sitting in the couch and showing helplessness of having no funds . Sounded like a politician only.God help Indian football!

    • Rahul Bhutani

      Thanks Suave The PIO is indeed a burning issue and we hope AIFF does take this point into notice

  • Suave

    Please read this if you r really there to improve football Mr. Das,

    We just need to make football popular ,definately we will see next Messi in India ( m not joking ofcourse) . we need to glamourise game of soccer .AIFF and govt. should change their stand on allowing sportspersons of Indian origin to play for India without leaving their chosen passport/ citizenship(case of Michael Chopra) .
    Imagine what a big boost football will recv if someone of Michael or Harmeet Singh’s stature plays for India and earns millions of dollars .Surely it will make game popular in states like Punjab for e.g where you have bigger and taller people .

    We need to make Soccer really popular .We need to take several initiatives like – allowing a few of very good players from outside(playing in I league for e.g) India to play for the country e.g Odafa .Surely once game takes off and much money starts pouring into the game we will see many Indians taking interest and participating in football .
    World cup winning football French team had more then 7 players who were naturalised Frenchs rather than someone of having french parentage .
    If these developed nations can do this then y our sports ministry cannot allow this to happen.Remember even Pete Sampras’s (Tennis Player) parents came from Algeria .Infact you can name 100″s of great American sportpersons orignally hailed from other countries( Monica Seles- originally a czech national)
    I think we need a minister or a Govt. who is really passionate about sports ( Hope Maken , Praful reads this).

    If we take some bold steps then definately u and myself will be able to see India qualifying for Football World cup in near future otherwise sadly our next generations also would be debating over same old stuff

    I would like to add one more comment to above written comment .As i reminicise my childhood memories It was about 10 years ago ( I do not know the exact year) .

    I saw Indian football team completely dominating Phillipinnes football team .Indian team won easily against them .Well a few weeks ago I saw Indian football team in a complete disarray against same opponents – Phillippines .Phillippines easily won against our national team and look at the irony the scorer of all 2 goals holds a British passport(Younghusband) , infact most of the filippino squad had players with similar traits as per as their nationality is concerned .
    Ending 3rd in the AFC challenge cup has given a real flip to the soccer in their country . Look at their newspapers who are full of aritcles about their football team .
    I find it difficult to find even a few articles in Times of India about our Football team.

    • Rahul Bhutani

      Thanks for the point Suave but the PIO is a governmental matter and its the sports ministry which has to take not of it

      Nice points though

  • Jain

    I agree to the above comments also wether PLS will be successful or not for that to happen you have to
    make it happen instead of hampering it as done by AIFF.We have seen what AIFF has done for the past 75
    years . If ppl were willing to invest for the cause of Indian football then y the hell AIFF bosses have a problem with this. We live in a very unfortunate country . Even if some ppl want to do something gud for our Football then they face the bureaucratic hurdles in the name of these insane AIFF bosses.

    What has reliance -IMG done . Could you tell Mr. Das? They are still drafting plan even after almost a year of their existence …and u say that PLS would not be successful which got eyeballs from the whole world.

    People in Bengal sometimes are known to beat footballers if they don’t perform . I think they should hang ppl like Kushal Das because these leaches are the real culprit for the plight of Indian football.

  • Ashok

    Excellent interview Rahul and Mr Das. I see that one of the questions I had asked about allowing academies in U-20 I-league was also asked. This shows the power of collobration on the WWW !

    • Rahul Bhutani

      Thanks Glad you liked it :) Hope you got ur answer on U-20 League

  • Saurav K. Battajarya

    Elimination of MD. Sporting was pathetic in 2nd Division. Mr. Das mum about this. Ofcourse AIFF was in favour of Bhutia. Fully dominated MD. Sporting denied 2 clear penalty and Bhutia’s steam earned a controversial penalty and qualified to 1 st division. Read hard tackle & Telegraph report. This type of attitude from AIFF bosses will kill Indian Football

  • Avinash

    Sir, I am extremely proud of this……

    • Rahul Bhutani

      Thanks Avinash :)

  • joe

    Interview is interesting.
    soccer must start at early age ( age of 4) and our academies must train schools teachers(those who interested) and send back to school to train their children .
    and academies need more sponsors.and also required tournaments for kids,( like Bambini Tournaments , for kids 4 years in Germany)
    Indian companies those who are buying clubs out side India , has to to pay a cretin amount to AIFF ,for the development of Indian soccer.
    and same time ,week ends must show, highlights of all leaguein free TV ( Dur Darshan), so that small sponsors also get the vantage of all India coverage., so more sponsors will come forward to sponsor soccer clubs.
    the AIFE must have some sort of control over the rent of stadiums, means Cochin stadiums costs 45 laks / day same time “Munich Olympic stadium can hire at 18 or 19 lakhs( 35000 Euros)/ day.

    • Rahul Bhutani

      Thanks joe Glad you liked it :)

  • Arvind

    What about PIO’s joining Indian national team ..what is AIFF doing about that..its time they start answering Indian fans othewise AIFF should be disolved and given to private body without govt. intervention..enough is enough ..we have seen 75 years gone past and nothing much they have done other than telling that they have no funds…

    What about PLS ..its should start immediately ..good initiative by CMG ..unfortunately nothing much has been done by AIFF so far..only trying to kill PLS..we don’t want to see this bloody politics anymore

  • Raydu

    yeah these two topics should be addressed immediately ..1) PLS and 2) PIO’s to play for Indian national team. even if they support these two things ..we will see massive improvement in the fotune of Indian football ..hope somebody is reading ( wake up AIFF)

  • Ramesh

    Totally agree with the comments above ..youth development can keep happening but need of the hour is these 2 things

    1) PLS and 2) PIO’s to play for Indian national team….even these 2 initiatives can immediately improve
    Indian football a great deal ..AIFF pls listen

  • George

    Don’t stall PLS ..AIFF ..think about Indian football and fans ,.pls dont play politics also allow PIO’s to play for our national team …lobby hard with the Govt. ..don’t know what they are doing so far ..why is Chopra still not playing for our national team.

    • Rahul Bhutani

      As you say George on PIO front its a Government issue to allow PIO in all sports and sure Indian Football would benefit from this

      • George

        Thanks Rahul , but I would like if these questions are repeteadly asked to anyone associated with AIFF so that these things stay in their mind. Thanks anyways for an excellent interview. Hope Indian football moves forward and I really loved what was written by Suave in the above mentioned comments . Great work done by you …we are really proud of u ..way to go

  • Prashant

    He has given very generic answers… Not impressed… You could have grilled him a lot more…

  • Avijit Saxena

    Interesting interview. I appreciate the pro youth development stance by AIFF but am not able to understand as to why certain regions like north India and central India, expecially states like U.P, M.P, J & K, Rajasthan, Gujrat, Bihar, Himachal, Utranchal, Orissa and Chattisgarh are being ignored while setting up the regional academies???? I mean states like U.P, M.P, Rajasthan and bihar contribute to about 40 % of our total population and if we do not tap the football talent from these ares then surely we would be losing out on some very good future stars!!!! No doubt these states don’t have adequate infrastructure or popularity of the games but i have personally seen kids in cities like Lucknow, Allahabad and jaipur playing the game passionately. While setting up the youth feeder system we simply cannot ignore such huge areas of our country….The approach should be pan-India and the effort should be made to spread the game all over the country.

  • salmanschelsea

    @RAHUL BHUTANI i would like to thank you for taking such a nice interview …………….i completely agree with Suave n joe very happy to read their comments as they share the same VISION for indian as i do ……..suave n joe can i have ur email id plz if u dont mind , i have dis thing dat in order to develop indian football we need to make football as a game famous in our country ……the supply (infrastructure , development at grassroot level , competative leauges ) is low becoz the demand (football as a game awarness is low )……..for example AIFF page has only 1301 members on fb , how poor is dat n wat is mr praful patel doing in AIFF …………dis guy know nothing abt football ……i think wat government is doing dat people dat dose not fit into BCCI dey send dem to AIFF ………the last question is is possible dat PLS team can play I leauge ……….. suave, joe n anybody else reading dis comment , i live in london only for now n completely understand as of y we r behind , i have a proposal that i made by researching gremany , france , england n portugals football structure. i want to0 share it with you people .my eamil address is [email protected] . looking forward