FIFA U-17 World Cup: The Game Changer Indian Football Needs

India’s chances of hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 received a major boost as the Union Cabinet gave its approval for the proposal last month. This event had announced the arrival of Cesc Fabregas, Anderson, Giovani dos Santos, Nuri Sahin, Toni Kroos and Bojan Krkic in world football stage in past. The star of last U-17 World Cup, Souleymane Coulibaly was snapped up by Tottenham Hotspur soon after. Players like Sani Emmanuel, Nassim Ben Khalifa, Julio Gomez, who emerged from recent events are expected to grace world football stage with their talent. AIFF pins its hopes of rejuvenating the interest in world’s most popular sport with this marquee event.

AIFF asked for Governmental approval for hosting the event earlier. The proposal included hosting the events in 5 states, Delhi, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka and one among Kerala, Goa and Assam. AIFF together with FIFA, had agreed to bear the entire cost of hosting the event. The organizing bodies were counting on Sponsorship and other commercial deals to source the required funds.

India U-14 Football Team, one for the future.

India U-14 Football Team, one for the future.

Indian Government has not only approved the project, but also provided funds for stadium up-gradation and other emergency activities. The fund provided by Central Government for stadium upgrade and renovation is 95 crores and an additional 25 crores is provided for emergency cover in various activities. Central government has also promised adequate security for hosting the event along with tax exemptions, transport, accommodation of players, visa and foreign exchange which were needed to gather the event.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter and secretary general Jerome Valcke have also promised their support for India to host the event. AIFF officials are hopeful of landing the FIFA U-17 World Cup as it is usually awarded to nations which are lower down the pecking order in footballing chart. Contenders for hosting the marquee event are Azerbaijan, India, Republic of Ireland, South Africa and Uzbekistan. It is believed that India are favourites to land the hosting rights and some sources have revealed that they had got a promise from Sepp Blatter himself.

FIFA’s vision of developing the game in country will receive a major boost with this event. Football academies and grass root development plans are already in place and the expectations will be high. It is an ideal time to measure the impact of the 24 team World Cup in the subcontinent. The potential of a 100 crore market will be appealing to FIFA more than anything and it puts Indian Football in the driving seat for the marquee event.

FIFA had asked AIFF officials to be part of the 2013 U-17 World Cup to be  held in UAE to learn the trade. FIFA’s desire for the country to be part of the organizing committee which will help them to gather details about hosting a global football tournament gives us a clearer picture about India’s chances. AIFF officials has accepted the offer and it is believed that they are willing to be part of the team which organizes the junior World Cup at the end of this year. Indian think tank believes that they will get to know how a big tournament is hosted without any glitches and that tops the priority charts of AIFF.

Even though India is obsessed with Cricket, the country has always followed football. The World Cups, Euros have huge following in the country. Club level major tournaments like UEFA Champions League, Europa League, English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga also enjoys similar attention from Indian public. But when it comes to Indian Football, National team matches doesn’t get the same fan fare and I-League matches also hardly gain public attention. This lack of enthusiasm can be attributed to the gulf in standards at International and National levels.

U-17 World Cup is expected to reduce that gap, it can help India to rise on global football map and their footballing standards are expected to improve. If AIFF can utilize the public interest following the event, and channel them to subsequent Indian Football Team and club level events, football roots will swiftly grow in this country. The beautiful game is adored across the world, and it will provide the platform for Indian Football lovers to step up and promote their own brand of football.

Can India produce football players of the highest caliber? If chosen as a host, India will get direct entry for the event, will they be able to match up with their compatriots?

India’s senior team is no match to the top sides in World Football. India’s best bet skipper Sunil Chettri is surplus to the requirements of a Portugese Club’s B team, this gives a clear idea about our status. We were beaten quite handsomely by Asian football’s biggest teams and those teams itself finds it hard to match up with their opponents abroad. Then what about India!

AIFF think tank has learned from their past mistakes and is investing on grass roots developments and FIFA aided academies. Regional and Elite academies are making a name for itself with some outstanding performances. The U-15 team is regularly beating U-19 and senior teams across the country and that too quite handsomely. AIFF U-15 team beating Mohun Bagan Goalz Project team itself is a big feat, then how about a 18-0 win!

Indian team has done well in AFC U-14 event earlier, one of it’s players Lazim Ali was selected as the most skillful player in one of the continental level tournaments. With more investment in kids, the number of players taking up the game seriously is increasing and that increases India’s chances as well. Players born after 2000 will be eligible for the 2017 U-17 World Cup, and India has started planning for the future already. Since February 2013, India has an academy operational in Goa for footballers born in this period. They are set to learn and grow with the time, about the advances in world football. AIFF technical director Rob Baan and Technical director for academies Scott O’Donell has started their work behind the scenes already.

O’Donell will have a huge role to play in India and he is looking forward hopefully.

“We have to start somewhere, and in my personal opinion this could be the trigger that helps kick-start Indian football from the grassroots level, youth development right through to the I-League. The interest and excitement of hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup will hopefully bring everyone together with the goal of fielding a competitive team for the U-17 World Cup.”

India is also planning to set up more academies and a national championship in this age group to select and induct the best players is also in the planning phase. Most notably, Pune FC, winner of junior I-League in past 2 seasons have already put together a blueprint to develop players for the World Cup. If the all plans bear fruit then India is expected to come out with a good team for the event after four years. AIFF will be trying to give the best possible preparation to the youngsters for their junior World Cup, which will not only be their biggest challenge in their short careers but also for the millions of Indian Football lovers.

Developing infrastructure is expected to provide another major headache for the organizing committee. It’s not just the stadiums and its infrastructure, the training grounds, team bases etc. also needs to be in World Class stature. Selection of venues will be critical, traditional footballing areas need to be identified and developed. West Bengal, Goa, Kerala and Punjab deserves a bite in the cherry without even a shadow of doubt.

If AIFF can develop the required infrastructure on time, this will be the platform to launch Indian Football in future. With top class facilities comes great players, and with improved infrastructure and playing conditions our standards will improve as the time progresses. And this event is expected to leave a legacy in India for the future generations.

The appeal for football, improvements in facilities and infrastructure is expected with the junior World Cup. But India needs to prepare and host the event in the right way. Corruption will be a major headache, it has marred the Commonwealth Games in 2010, and the people don’t need a repeat of the events. Passion for the sport need to overcome the greed. Broadcasting and tourist attractions provide ample amount of opportunities for the businessmen. FIFA U-17 World Cup is not only set to boost the game in the subcontinent, but also, the scope for tourism makes it an attractive proportion for the business tycoons.

Can the ‘sleeping giants’ finally wake up from their slumber? U-17 World Cup in India can provide the ideal platform to take Indian Football to the next level. It’s time for the beautiful game to rise once again.

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