FIFA U17 World Cup: A small step for Indian Football, a giant leap beckons
"The most gruesome roads lead to some of the most beautiful places," - a cliched quote (or at least a variation of it) that can be found across the interweb. But for Indian football and their humbling experience in the U17 World Cup, this can be nothing further than the truth.
The young kids wearing the Indian blue were outrun, outmuscled and in some ways outclassed. But this is a blow we need to take on the chin and move on. Unlike in previous years, there was a lot to learn - one of them being - knowing where we truly stand on the world stage.
Nine goals conceded, one scored. Some felt disappointed, some felt proud. At least there was a reaction. The hype, however, is over now and the hard work begins.
The tournament serves as buzz creator - a promotional event. The film is yet to open up in the theatres.
Rome wasn't built in a day
While the Indian federation has finally woken up to the demands of the beautiful game, the dearth of awareness and rather willingness from the men in charge of the game to move it in the right direction in the last fifty odd years has left the country and its footballing scene lacking and way behind in terms of footballing infrastructure and culture.
India has had some years of glory but one can't help but feel that it's finest hours are yet to come. The dreams seem to be big and rightly so you may feel rightly so - but the road to their realisation place is an arduous one. However, somewhere between the new leagues, the senior team's success and the promise showed by some of the youngsters, the game and the ecosystem around it as a whole seems to be trying to find its feet and make a dash at the dreamland.
"Results may not have gone India's way," says Alan Shearer - he knows a thing or two about football. "But this is a start. This World Cup is something that has piqued the interest. People are talking about it. They are asking about stuff. This country at least knows that they want to grow."
Jaekson Singh's goal didn't capture the imagination of a billion hearts - a million? Yes, certainly. And that there is a start. Social media was abuzz and people got to know. If they didn't, they googled or asked their friends.
The kids were overwhelmed by the occasion - running on pure adrenaline at times and at times were just shoved off the ball. But they gave it all. Their heart and soul. And whilst the battering may have taken the wind out of the sails, one can't help but feel they will come back stronger.
And that's why everyone in the footballing fraternity - from the media to the administrators need to stick with them.
"They made mistakes. Yes there is no doubt about that but they did while trying to express themselves on the field," says veteran defender and ex-Indian captain Gauramangi Singh. "They made mistakes while trying to do the right things and that should be welcomed. Yes, we have to learn from these mistakes but as long as they try to do the right thing, we are moving in the right direction."
At the moment Indian football can be best described as a halfway house residing between the aspiring professionalism we wish to achieve in the footballing sphere and the amateurish politics that leaves the Indian football fans bewildered time and again.
These are certainly testing times and the men at the helm of football in India will have to deliver. The ISL has seen huge corporate backing and has seen the financial muscles being flexed. That should be followed up coherent policies from the AIFF for developing the game at the grassroots level.
"Many people are saying that the kids were not that good," says Subrata Paul - India's own Spiderman. "But that is only because we are comparing with the best around the world. If you had seen previous performances from the Indian U17, you would understand the rise in the level of the game that India has gone. This is the best generation of players that India has produced in a long time."
Not everyone in the U17 team will shine brightly on the senior stage. This generation might not set the footballing world on fire and not even take the Blues to the (real) World Cup (on merit).
The potential is there for all to see (we also qualified for the AFC U16 Championship) and these kids will only get better. And thus we must be there to help these youngsters to one day own their ground on the footballing turg
The destination is now at least in sight. But the road has just begun to be paved. This will one heck of a journey if we finally get there.