MUMBAI: India has a large and extremely passionate football following. Whether in villages or cities, it is commonplace to see agile young and old, kick a football around whether for fun or at locally organized football games. Asides this, football clubs around the world receive massive followership across India and it is not uncommon to see both young and adult Indians don jerseys of different football teams.
However, with a population of 1.2 billion, you would think that there would be 11 people in India who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch. But apparently not. Though India are not a million miles behind the Asia’s leading teams, but there is a clear talent gap.
While our players might be one of the most naturally gifted, why aren’t we transferring that into meaningful football?
There are many reasons ascribed to the dire state of Indian football. First point is development. You could be a brightest kid in the world but without any proper education, you won’t be able to unlock your potential in order to stand out. Same with our footballers, they might be very talented and full of skill, but they do not know how to use these qualities to their advantage because of lack of development.
Elsewhere in Asia, players get proper football education, on the tactical level from a very young age and that makes them better footballers. And because our players do not go through development stages properly, they miss out on developing the most important elements of football like when to hold onto the ball, pass a better placed teammate or to shoot and the shooting technique.
India has a lot of talent similar to Japan and South Korea but problem is that development structures are not there to develop these boys. We have a problem developing talent internally. We can identify and scout players, that is not a problem, the football infrastructure, whilst not at the level of cricket and hockey, is still reasonably good and given that football is the country’s second most played sport, there is no player shortage. However, if we do not want to copy the approach of other Asian countries, which is to get local players scouted to European teams, let them develop the talent and then hope that it all comes together for the national team, then we need to improve our internal development structures.
There is always talk of development, to increase pool of players, similar to what Japan did, but its always talk, never action, there is no solid plan, except a tournament here and there, and we need to remind that the flow of talent is already low because of Indian parents who prefer their children to spend their spare time studying rather than sport.
Our expectations are always too high and until we deal with the uncomfortable reality that we really are bad, and not bad as in we’ll turn it around by the time of the next World Cup, but bad as in there needs to be wholesale changes to how we approach football management in the country, then we will spend another 50 years in the doldrums.
Nonetheless, the recent explosion of interest in Indian football and the All India Football Federation’s attempts to boost the fortunes of the national side have raised hopes of India becoming a decent team. But the harsh reality is that renewed efforts, even if they deliver positive outcomes, may not take effect in time for Qatar 2022.