Has Tata Football Academy achieved more or less than its potential?
Tata Football Academy (TFA) since its inception has been the feeder for Indian football, producing numerous players who have represented India at various levels. One-third of the Indian players in ISL are ex-TFA cadets. That’s an incredible achievement by any standards.
Despite TFA's stupendous success, why they haven’t been able to produce another Sunil Chettri or Bhaichung Bhutia?
Former players and football experts believe the quality has dropped over the years.
Former TFA graduate Rennedy Singh and India International in an interview to Goal.com, felt the standard of the academy has dipped,
“I do not think they have the same facilities (as us) and I don’t think they get proper coaching. TFA in our time was the best. However, I feel it is not the same anymore. It is really sad.”
He further added, “I feel selecting players when they are 14-or-15 is a little too late. I am lucky that I joined when I was 11 and a half but I feel I was late. Players starting at 14 are not going to help at all. We have to start at 7.”
One of the major reason behind TFA's underachievement could be deficiencies of India’s youth setup. There are virtually no competitions in a structured way till the age of 13. Absence of a structured youth setup means that players are not identified before the age of 13, almost 7 years behind world standards.
In Holland, almost 60,000 children between ages six and 13 compete each weekend. Before the age of 8 they would have played 100 competitive matches. Many other countries have a similar system in place.
Former technical adviser, Shyam Thapa , suggested that a change in the TFA’s selection procedures might have been the reason behind the obvious dip in quality.
“Earlier, the scouts used to go to various places to select the players. But now state associations send players for trials. That might have resulted a dip in the quality.”
Another prominent problem has been the fact that, over the years TFA graduates failing to make a smooth transition from a being academy cadet to a successful professional player at the club level. TFA cadets ended up on benches of big club sides with little to no chance to play, often fading into obscurity.
All the above factors could have played a role behind TFA’s perceived underachievement. But there’s a sense of optimism that finally TFA is heading in the right direction.
Birthing of Jamshedpur FC is one such development. It meant that the role of TFA would change. Graduates can now continue their development at Jamshedpur FC with the TFA being part of the chain. In fact, JFC promoted three academy graduates Mobashir Rahman, Vishal Das and Gourav Mukhi in their squad for 2018-19 season of Indian Super League.
Jamshedpur FC Reserves playing in the I-League 2nd division and other age group competitions,would provide ample opportunities for cadets to hone their skills.
But is it enough?
Jamshedpur FC and Tata Football Academy have done their bit by putting in the right structures in place. Now, AIFF needs to do its bit by putting in place a structured youth setup. The secret to success would be to a start a Baby League across the country, thus creating a competitive football eco system at the grassroots.
AIFF could also increase the number of youth competitions in the country by reviving century -old tournaments like Durand Cup, Rovers Cup, Sait Nagjee, Bordoloi and others into age group tournaments. IFA Shield has already refashioned itself into an under-19 competition since 2015.
If India has to climb up the ladder in the arena of world football, AIFF needs to step up its game. Only then can we find the next Sunil Chettri or Bhaichung Bhutia.