“At a young age winning is not the most important thing. The important thing is to develop creative and skilled players with good confidence” – Arsene Wenger.

The trend of developing youth academies, although not in abundance, tasted success as the AIFF U-16 Regional Boys Academy painted a decent picture of India as a footballing nation, in Europe. The AIFF U-16 Boys went on to play against the likes of Schalke 04 and AZ Alkamar, losing 1-0 against the former and in penalties against the latter. Although the results might have not been in favor of the Indian Contingent, the exposure tour gave the young cadets much needed experience and steele. Players like Anriudh Thapa, Surya Tirkey and Edmund Laldrindika demolished the dogma built around failed Indian Coaches.

The Tata Football Academy has also earned its share of respect, producing quality players constantly. However, Academies such as the TFA and AIFF are not in every part of the country. That is where the ISL Grassroot Programme comes into play.


Piet Hubers governing the Grassroot Workshop

To begin with, the ISL Grassroots Development Programme has a singular aim, to make kids enjoy football and to groom them into decent players. The initiative taken up by the AIFF to revolutionize football in India, will reform the way football-as-a-profession is seen in India. Under the Programme, each of the 8 ISL Franchisees have pooled in sums up to INR 2 Crores and appointed development managers, entrusted with the task of scouting and training budding talents. Another major breakthrough was achieved with a 3 day workshop, held for the coaching staff in Kolkata. Innovating the Indian coaching setup, the workshop focused on technical aspects of the game, as well as vitals such as confidence, fitness and training.

“There is no doubt the ISL and the involvement of international stars including the likes of Michael Chopra and Freddie Ljungberg will play a big role in raising the game’s profile in India. Indian football is now getting into the newspapers and the media, this is what you need,” says AIFF Technical Director of Academies, Scott O’Donnell.

“The aim at working at the grassroots is to make kids enjoy the game and its following increases. We want as many boys and girls to come forward. The programme aims to train at least a million kids.” he adds.

“Contribution of the franchises towards the programme was one of the basic qualifications during bidding because our aim is to take the game to every nook and corner of the country.” comments an ISL Official.

The Delhi Based Franchisee called Delhi Dynamos, started this mass initiative by latching onto to the chance of creating their own Dynamos, by launching an event that would take football to the roots in Delhi-NCR. The initiative was based solely on the dynamos trying to recognize and scout talent. The event which began on the 19th of August witnessed the First Junior Dynamos Inter-School Tournament, played in four zones of Delhi, across three different age categories.

Junior Dynamos

Junior Dynamos

Based on these performances the Delhi Dynamos would create a junior wing, selecting the top 30 players. The chosen stars would then go on a six-month long training programme under the Dynamo’s coaches. These players would also go on to represent Delhi Dynamos across various Youth Leagues in India.

The Sachin Tendulkar co-owned franchisee, Kerela Blasters also jumped on to the bandwagon by reaching out to thousands of Keralites in their initiative.

“A lot of academies start grassroots programmes very early, but they don’t really know how to teach kids. The same sessions would be held for senior as well as junior kids, but that never works. The correct method of training young children is totally different. Now we’re learning the correct way, and realizing that it’s more about letting the kids get acquainted with the game and enjoy themselves. It’s a great thing that the AIFF and ISL are doing, and hopefully, we will see its results in some years.I must add that football, in my opinion, is a great teacher of life lessons, more than any other sport, which is why I call football the “School of Life” comments Kerala Blaster’s Grassroot officer Deepak CM, in an interview with the Indian Super League.

Franchisees have entertained this idea of training, scouting, developing and creating a superstar. The Pune based franchisee FC Pune City will add to the existing footballing culture in Pune, by teaching kids to play the Fiorentina Way envisions development manager Pramesh Naik.

The Indian Super League has brought with itself much razzmatazz and elation. Watching the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires and David Trezeguet play in the Indian subcontinent, is a dream come true for many. The links developed between the ISL Franchisees and the European Clubs are another positive of this star-studded event. Ties between Delhi Dynamos and Feyenoord, FC Pune City and Fiorentina, Atletico de Kolkata and Atletico de Madrid will certainly benefit the franchisees in the long run. But, perhaps the most vital ingredient which the Indian Super League has brought isn’t the most visible one, the ISL Grassroots Development Program.

Perhaps to awaken India from its long deep slumber as a giant, the grassroots programme is one major jolt intended to force the nation to achieve brilliance. Commencing in the city of Mumbai soon, the grassroots programme is set to change the way football is seen as general in India. It is certain that uncharted talent will be scouted.

Links with European clubs will certainly help in improvising the coaching methods and techniques applied in the subcontinent. These ties also serve as a proper breeding ground for talent ,European scouts might be interested in. Although the results of the Grass Root Development Programme will not be palpable in the first few years, it would certainly grip the nation in the next five. Lastly, the dream of seeing India in a World Cup, might just be possible in the coming years, with the grass-root programme presenting the national team with abundance of talented mature superstars.