The current state of the Indian football is in extremely poor state and any quick fix of the same is not going to yield a desired result. We need to be patient and baby steps need to be taken rather than giant leaps. People though expect immediate solutions and therein lay the problem. Nothing is going to be achieved overnight. We are the 2nd largest population in the world. Finding a team good enough to compete at the highest level is not a problem. The real problem lies in the way we want to look for the team. We can’t just rectify decades of mistakes and disasters in a matter of years. There has to be a system in place. A system, which not only allows an individual to showcase his talents but also be sustainable enough for that individual to make a living out of it. The U17 World Cup may open up some completely new possibilities in Indian football, some are listed below.

Change in Perception

For a ridiculously long time now, cricket has been the only career choice in sports for the kids. Parents don’t want their children to take up any other sport as it eventually doesn’t pay much as much cricket does in the current scenario. That is true but the times are changing. There is a lot of interest generating in the game now. A lot of new investors are pouring money and are prepared to stay for the whole journey. The current stars in the I-League get paid decent money. It is not a poor man’s game anymore. It will be a long time before it strikes gold like the cricketing fraternity has done but surely it will improve. Indians have to change their cynical view of the game and understand that the opportunities are endless in the world of football. It just needs to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck. You don’t need to be miraculously talented to make it big but working your socks off is definitely a prerequisite for reaching the pinnacle.

Massive Improvement in Infrastructure

Saying that the country lacks in world class facilities in probably the understatement of the century. Barring a few in the country, nowhere do we find a decent stadium with the all the facilities that are expected of a football stadium. Let alone international standards the facilities don’t even have the basic set of equipment required for the players’s training needs. Not all the clubs are supported financially like the bigger clubs but no one expects them to provide state-of-the-art equipment but a certain set of tools should be present. The local authorities and the league should help out the financially weaker clubs. Development in football is an ongoing process, it never stops. Once the clubs are helped out and they get decent facilities at their arena it will yield results, both off and on the pitch.

FIFA U-17 World Cup: JawaharLal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi

FIFA U-17 World Cup: JawaharLal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi

The term infrastructure is not just restricted to the equipment side of things only. Technical ability is something that is just as important if not more. Sir Trevor Brooking, a former England and West Ham United player was disappointed when he saw the U-9’s, 11’s play on a full length football field. His view was that kids at that age should not be playing on a full length field because at that age it is not important to be able to keep a ball without being any under pressure from the opposition. He wanted the pitches to be atleast half the sizes so that the kids learn to keep hold of the ball, pass it around in a tighter congested area. Wriggling your way out of tough spots in the field and ball retention was what Brooking thought was of utmost importance at that age. What the point here is that we need to concentrate on each aspect of a players and start developing from the very beginning. For that we need a solid and strong infrastructural background so that we are able to groom the players from a very young age.

Stability at Administrative Level

More often than not we hear about different associations fighting it out to get supremacy. There is a clear absence of a direction in the way the Indian football is controlled. Every now and then there are rumblings between the top officials about petty things. Unless and until there is a body whose affiliation lies only with the improvement of the game in the country, we will not make any progress. In India, sporting events have much more to do with politicians wanting to show their power rather than anything else. This is all well but it doesn’t do anything to further the cause of the game in the country. The top brass need to sit down and come up with a plan to use these tournaments to help the clubs and the players financially as well. This will only happen if we have a stable and functioning top brass of officials rather than those who are there only to further their own agenda.

Branding and Money

The term branding to some cynical people means “Selling Out”. Well in a sense it does mean selling out but Indian football needs that at the moment. We need the general public to talk and spend on football just like they do on cricket. The interest in football should be so high that people should become curious about it and talk it at the first opportunity they get. Investors and sponsors should be asked to popularize football so that the people get excited about it and it comes up in regular discussions.

At present no matter how less you know and even care about cricket, you can still enter a discussion on the topic. Football is nowhere close to cricket when it comes to popularity contest between the two games. Football is not fighting a losing battle though and the European clubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Milan and other are popular names among Indian football lovers albeit a substantially low percentage of the populations. The top officials should somehow try to replicate that feeling with the Indian football clubs. The fans need to be attached closely with the local clubs, without which they won’t get as much involved with the football scene in India as much as they do with the European leagues. Branding is an important tool in any field these days and one with so many to be wooed, it can be used with a grand effect to achieve unlimited success.

The Art Of Being Patient

Ric Charlesworth, the Australian hockey legend was once interviewed for the head coach of the Indian hockey team and was asked to lay out his plans for success. He cited out the various deficiencies in the Indian system and suggested that a complete overhaul of the system. The Indian officials were with him on this till the time he was asked the time period that this process would take. The Australian told them that this process would take 10-12 years to fully blossom but would turn the Indian team into world beaters. That was not the answer the officials were looking for. They wanted the team to be great again in the time it took for them to blink an eye. Charlesworth stepped aside and the state of the hockey fraternity is clear for all to see.

The football fraternity needs a complete makeover. Patience is the key to all of it. People responsible for running the sport in the country need to realize that good things don’t happen quickly. If we are to become a stronger sporting nation, we need to put out faith in experts who know what they are doing. If the things are put in the right order, then in due time India will have a good and lively league which will in turn benefit the fortunes of the national team. Everything good comes at a price and for India to be noticed in the international arena, the cost is time and patience.

Written by Abhimanyu Halakhandi