(by Arunava Chaudhuri) In the last century Indian football has witnessed more hard times then happy ones but the new century might bring more happiness for the Indian football fans.
OK, India has won the Asian Games title twice and has finished once second in the Asian Nations Cup but that was in the 50s & 60s when India was Asia’s No.1 footballing nation. In those days India even played at four back-to-back Olympics from 1948 to 1960, playing against countries like France and the then mighty Hungary. India even received an invitation to participate at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil but they didn’t participate as the All India Football Federation (AIFF) administration made it clear that its players played barefoot in those days, even playing so at the 1948 London Olympics but FIFA had made the mandatory rule that at the World Cup players had to wear shoes. The end is sadly known, India didn’t participate because of its officials as the players would have loved to play, even with shoes. The AIFF officials‘ attitude has not changed since then as sometimes one has to ask, what are they actually doing for the future of Indian football? The problem was then and still is, that the AIFF administrators are often people, who before taking up a post haven’t had anything to do with football.
But the future is not as bleak as is seems. Last autumn India’s star-striker Baichung Bhutia signed a three-year contract with english second division club Bury FC, becoming the first Indian player to ever sign a professional contract in Europe. All Indian football enthusiasts hope that Baichung will make it England ad that he will open the door for other talented Indian youngsters in Europe.
The transfer was only made possible by the hard work and financial assistance of Sapphire Enterprises. Sapphire Enterprises mainly means, Raj Prohit and Jas Bains, who have done superb work in getting Baichung into a club in England but that has not been all. The Indian national team will tour England this summer, playing some exhibition matches, as the future of Indian football lies to some extend in England. All hope that some second/third generation Indian youngsters from the UK will make it to the english Premier League and then also play for India. Sapphire is doing all it can to help Indian football.
But in India the development of football is also gaining momentum. It is not the AIFF which is leading the pack but rather industrialists, like the Tata’s and football enthusiasts, like Bill Adams; who are either financing development projects or working together with young talents. In the age group upto 19, India is among the best in Asia but after that the talented players loose their talent on the way. What India mainly needs are qualified coaches, who can work with the youngsters, then if they get the proper coaching at an early age they could be even better and maybe join clubs in Europe at a junior stage. But India also need qualified coaches for the club level, as most of the top Indian coaches are former top players of the 60s & 70s. These coaches do not bring in any new ideas from international football, regarding tactics, physical aspects of the game and the nutrition of the players. Which is a need of the time. I believe coaches from Europe and South America could change that to some extend, like scotsman Danny McLennan at Churchill Brothers.
An interesting development this season is that higher class foreigners have signed with Indian clubs. Players like Thai Asian All-Star Dushit and Uzbekistan captain and former star Shkryvin have signed with Calcutta-side Mohun Bagan, while Ukrainian’s Malchevsky and Shevchenko have signed with Goa’s Churchill Brothers. Others have signed mainly players from Africa but the clubs are building scouting systems on the African continent not to sign players, who aren’t better than their Indian counterparts, as the Africans demand higher salaries. The better foreigners thus also help their Indian teammates and opponents to improve, then competition is still the best way to get the best out of a player.
So who knows, maybe in 20 to 30 years India belongs to the best in the world or maybe they will remain in the same situation as now. Let’s wait and see…