Football India: A quest to awaken the "sleeping giant"
This particular article may seem to be a bit surprising to some of the readers yet as an Indian it is my duty to make a section of the football community understand what football or soccer means to the Indian public and those unheralded individuals that are working tirelessly to make the world’s greatest game a bit more popular in this cricket-mad country. As a football blogger, I feel it is necessary for me to come aside from my daily routine of commenting on the affairs of the English clubs and concentrate some of my time on the game closer to home.
To a person attached to international economics, the rise of India as an economic and political superpower is not a sudden phenomenon. Yet to some, the benchmark for an international superpower is undoubtedly the success that a country achieves in multinational sports. Well, the Olympics and football are the two barometers for such a recognition and unfortunately India are not that close to such a recognition but the world can be assured of one thing that we Indians are not far off although inherent problems remain, that must be addressed in order to reach a new level.
Quoting the FIFA President Sepp Blatter who termed India as a ‘sleeping giant in world soccer’, one can be certain about one thing that the football governing body’s head did do his homework on the potential of such a huge country which can offer international football community huge commercial opportunities.
This particular piece is the start of a series of articles that will look at the very facets of Indian Football with player profiles, club potentials and many more. Today let us dedicate this piece to the man who transformed the Indian national team from nowhere into a confident bunch that is not afraid to play at a very high level in the Asian continent. Yes, my Indian friends guessed it right! I’m talking about none other than Robert Douglas Houghton or Bob Houghton, the head coach of the Indian national team.
He inherited a team that were short on confidence and getting hammered by the likes of Japan, Saudi Arabia and minnows such as Yemen and Pakistan. Yes, he suffered initial hiccups but Bob’s years of experience in coaching small teams with tremendous results worked here too in his nearly three year stint with the national football team. I personally feel that this country’s fledgling football side needed a high profile figure at the helm and that is what Mr.Houghton is. He brought flair, professionalism and positive character to meet physical sides and taught discipline to a young side. We might have lost the SAFF Championship to minnows Maldives and knocked out by Lebanon in the first round of the 2010 world cup qualifier, but honestly those losses were due to logistical problems rather than in terms of skills. Hardwork paid off when India won back to back Nehru Cups and it provided a much needed morale booster to the likes of Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chetri, Subroto Paul, Steven Dias and company. The lads tasted success for the very first time under an inspirational captain in the form of Bhutia and a tough coach in the form of former Malmo manager Bob Houghton.
Beating a tough Syrian team on a balmy and noisy Delhi night brought back memories of bygone days when India used to be an Asian superpower in the early sixties and seventies.
Rise of cricket and the eventual disproportionate investments led to the fall of football into an eternal abyss. Well, still it is now but suddenly the country has again started to stand up on foot under the directions of Bob Houghton. The win over Tajikistan in the final of the AFC Challenge Cup has assured India a place in the elite Asian Cup in 2011 for the first time since the seventies when we used to be champions of the continent on a regular basis but now the focus turns to India’s preparations for the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar where we are grouped against the likes of Australia, South Korea and Bahrain. Surely the group of death, given the pedigrees of all the three nations. As an Indian fan, I am already proud of having to face these nations and test ourselves against the best. This tournament will show how far we have progressed not just as a football team but as a football nation.
Well, Bobby Houghton, in all probability, would not be around after 2011 yet he would leave a legacy in Indian Football which we Indians would remember as a period when Mr.Houghton taught us how to win, how to rejuvenate a country that rejoices about his cricketers for 365 days but for once he gave us youngsters like Chetri, Abhishek Yadav, Gourmangi Singh and Subroto Paul who, if nurtured properly, would give Indian Football direction and ambition in the days and years to come and then we could see the ‘sleeping giant’ waking up to take the world by surprise.