The unquenchable thirst of reaching the zenith of the footballing pyramid consumes millions of youngsters all around the globe.
Right from the time they’ve kicked a ball with a couple of their mates in the back garden or on the streets, their dreamy-eyed ambitions of making it as a professional footballer soar like an eagle, often circumventing the realistic possibility of them not making the cut.
When the actuality of broken dreams sink in, there’s hindsight and perspective that consoles them.
India has been a sleeping giant in the world of football for a while now, and for a multitude of reasons, ranging from poor infrastructure to the lack of investment at the grassroots level, has contributed to the nation not making the gradual step-up and consolidating their status as one of the premier footballing nations in the world.
In what is a sincere attempt to provide the Indian footballing scene an essential push in the correct direction, the Indian Super League in conjunction with the Premier League have organised the Next Generation Mumbai Cup - a five-day competitive tournament featuring three Premier League U14 sides - Chelsea, Manchester United, and Southampton - who will lock horns with three Indian U15 youth sides - Bengaluru FC, FC Goa, and the Reliance Foundation Young Champs academy.
This tournament is an excellent initiative and a much-needed attempt at allowing young Indian players and coaches to take stock of their overall progress when pitted against counterparts from elite academies of huge English clubs.
Premier League ambassador Alan Shearer’s impressions after witnessing some of the action from the tournament during his two-day visit to the country was extremely positive, and the former Newcastle United striker was pleasantly surprised by how much progress football in India has made since his last visit to the country.
"My experience of the ISL and Indian football, this is my fourth time in India now, every time I get here there seems to be more excitement and football is on the up," Shearer said.
"I know cricket is usually popular over here, but football is making an impact. Certainly with tournaments like the Next Generation Mumbai Cup and with the involvement of the Premier League coming here along with the connection with the ISL, it’s only going to continue to become bigger and better."
Shearer remarked that there’s been a conscious effort by Premier League sides to try and inculcate a more dynamic brand of football in their youth teams - inspired by the brilliant brand of football we’ve seen Manchester City play under Pep Guardiola - wherein the younger kids are being encouraged to focus on aspects like patient build-up play and initiating attacks from the back, starting with the goalkeeper.
Moreover, the former Blackburn Rovers man believes that concerted attempts should be made to give the kids huge amounts of experience by exposing them to foreign tours like the Next Generation Cup early on in their careers.
This kind of exchange enables these young guns to experience a different vibe and culture that’ll aid their development off the pitch in addition to allowing Indian coaches to pick some things up from their English counterparts and refine their own skill-set.
“That’s the plan, that’s the aim, to try and give the kids as much experience in terms of not only on the pitch, but for the three clubs to come over here and sample your country, your culture, your weather, and then also for your coaches to pick into the brains of the English coaches.
“So, from both sides, there’s no doubt about it that it’ll be beneficial for future generations,” Shearer expounded.
Throughout the games that have been played over the past two days in the tournament, there’s been a visible gulf in quality between the Indian youth sides and their foreign counterparts.
When asked about how this disparity in ability can be abridged, Shearer stated that the only way this can be achieved is by giving the players an opportunity to test themselves regularly against superior oppositions like the youth teams of behemoths like Manchester United and Chelsea, which will be beneficial for both sets of youngsters in the long run.
“You say that but didn’t one of the teams from Goa beat the Southampton guys?” Shearer asked when quizzed about the difference in ability between the Indian and English sides.
"In terms of the ability, going back to what I was saying before, yes there is a difference in ability but I think that’s only natural. Given time, that’ll get less and less. The more opportunities that they have to play against the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Southampton, that can only be of huge benefit to them and their future."
"The exposure and experience of playing against Man United, Chelsea and Southampton can only benefit everyone. It can benefit the English clubs coming here without a doubt and it can benefit the ISL youngsters as well in terms of learning from the English guys.
Playing against different systems, clubs and oppositions, you only get better and learn, which is what it’s all about."
The conversation was gradually redirected towards the latest happenings in the world of football, and we couldn't proceed further without discussing Liverpool's exploits in the Premier League this season, and Jurgen Klopp’s side have done enough this season to warrant the title of the best side in Premier League history.
Through the course of time, we’ve seen some utterly dominant title-winning campaigns – Chelsea under Jose Mourinho in 2004, Sir Alex Ferguson’s treble winners and Manchester City’s centurions under Guardiola.
However, Liverpool have conjured up something absolutely magical this season. There’s an air of inevitability every time they take to the pitch – there’s a mental toughness which is indicative of their determination to thwart anybody that comes in their way.
Despite the convincing case that Klopp’s troops have put forth though, Shearer is of the opinion that Liverpool cannot be called the best side in the history of the league, simply because they haven’t won enough titles yet.
He maintained, however, that if Klopp’s men go on to win several titles over the next few years, they would be right up there in the conversation.
“No, because I think if they go on and win several titles, like Manchester United did, like Manchester City have, then you can say that they are the best Premier League team. But at the minute, I don’t think you can call them the best team ever in the Premier League yet because they haven’t won many titles.”
England’s growing concerns over the availability of star forwards Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford for the upcoming Euros were voiced to Shearer next, who feels that the absence of the duo could seriously dent Gareth Southgate’s side’s chances of going the distance in the showpiece event this summer.
When asked who he thinks are the favourites for the tournament, Shearer explained that he hopes England are in the mix come the latter stages of the competition but expressed concerns over their hopes being dealt a huge blow if Rashford, and especially Kane, don't make it back in time.
“I would hope England have a very good opportunity because they’ve got three group games at Wembley. If we get through those then we could have a semi-final and a final both at Wembley and having played at the stadium during Euro ’96, I know that if you get on a bit of a roll and the crowd get behind you, you never know," Shearer commented.
"But at the minute, we have no Harry Kane fit or Marcus Rashford fit in terms of centre-forwards so if we’re going to be successful then we’ll probably need those two, particularly Harry fit. If not England, then France.”
In case the duo doesn’t make the final squad for the Euros, Shearer believes Southgate will have a bit of a headache sifting through the remaining striking options, as there’ve been quite a few English strikers who’ve caught the eye with their scoring prowess this season.
“We’ve got great opportunities. Whether the manager picks the phone up to Jamie Vardy or not and ask him to come out of retirement as he is the top scorer in the Premier League along with Aubameyang," the 49-year-old stated.
"Then you have Tammy Abraham who’s had a very good season in terms of it’s his first in the Premier League. I know he hasn’t played the last couple of games. Then you have Danny Ings, there’s Calvert-Lewin also at Everton. There are plenty of options out there but there isn’t a Harry Kane, and Harry is a world-class player."
To conclude the conversation, there’s no way that we were going to let Shearer go without talking about his long-standing record of being the highest goal-scorer in Premier League history with 260 goals, and how it’d make him feel if somebody went ahead and dislodged him at the summit of the prestigious list.
“I hope they don’t!,” Shearer joked when asked how can someone break his Premier League record.
"I really enjoy seeing myself at the top of the list. I’m sure it will be broken one day. I suppose all records get broken one day, but let’s hope it’s a little bit longer so I can enjoy it a little bit more.”
When asked who could potentially surpass him, Shearer backed Kane to potentially surpass his record, provided he stays clear of any other serious injuries in the future.
"Well Harry Kane possibly. Sergio Aguero is on the wrong end of 30 now so he’ll probably have to score 20 goals over the next four or five years for him to break it, which might be unlikely. So Harry Kane, if he can stay in the Premier League hopefully and avoid any more serious injuries then he might have an opportunity of doing it," the Newcastle United legend concluded.