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How Subroto Cup is contributing to the Indian National Football Team

Some of the greatest Indian players of all time were first spotted at the Subroto Cup.

Baichung Bhutia
Baichung Bhutia has won the Indian Player of the Year on three occasions

India, a country of over a billion people, is yet to produce 11 players that could play in the World Cup finals. While cricket is the most popular sport in the country, football has also gained huge popularity in recent years, thanks to the increase in the telecast of European football.

This has led to the inception of the Indian Super League where the likes of the legendary Alessandro Del Piero and Roberto Carlos have featured. It just goes to show the increased love for the sport among fans. However, ISL and tournaments of similar ilk won’t produce the golden 11 that the nation so desperately seeks. For that to happen, the focus needs to be deeper—towards the roots, the children.

Children are like unforged clay pots. The way you shape them determines how they grow up to be. The difference between the football-dominant countries and India lies here as the former puts more emphasis on nurturing an aspiring footballer’s talent.

Late Indian Air Marshal Subroto Mukherjee was an avid football fan and foresaw that if India were to have any chance of becoming a footballing superpower, improving grassroots football is essential. And the tournament that aims to bridge this gap – the Subroto Cup – is his brainchild. The concept first materialized when the Subroto Mukherjee Education Society was founded after his untimely death in Japan in 1960.

The then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was adamant that the tournament be named in honour of the late Air Marshal. And this is how the tournament was incepted—a competition where only school teams can participate.

Initially, the tournament was played between the teams from Delhi. Now, however, it has spread all over India as preliminary inter-school tournaments take place in every state and union territory in the country.

The first stages of the competition begin at sub-division, district and division level, while the inter-school finals take place at state level. Finally, the main Subroto Cup Football tournament takes place in Delhi between the winners of the inter-school state level competition.

In 1998, the inclusion of the sub-junior category (for children aged 11 to 14) further demonstrated the seriousness of improving football skills at crux level. At the beginning, only a mere 50 school teams participated in the sub-junior level, a number which is dwarfed by the 32,000 schools that play in the tournament now.

In Europe, the youth academies of clubs make unique tournaments like these obsolete, hence making Subroto Cup the only one of its kind.

Jackichand Singh
Jackichand Singh is the latest to shine for India having played in the Subroto Cup

What the Subroto Cup does so well is give exposure and chances to young children. The system of the tournament means that every part of India is touched. By the time the main tournament is played, a lot of young talents are already spotted. This, more than anything else, motivates children and gives them hope.

The Subroto Cup, however, hasn’t been confined to the boundaries of India only as foreign teams of the same age group have been invited to feature in the tournament of late. Teams from Brazil, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Sweden, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and many more, have taken part in the tournament. This highlights the efforts of the organizers to increase the quality of football while giving the youngsters more exposure in their football education.

The biggest indication of the growth of the tournament was in 2014 when Brazilian giants, Fluminense participated. In the subsequent edition, the winners of the famed Gothia Cup also took part. This clearly highlights the monumental growth made by the Subroto Cup since its inception.

Another area where the Subroto Cup has expanded is gender. In 2011, it took a major leap when it announced the inception of a girls’ edition of the tournament. Initially, only 12 teams took part, a number that rose to 29 in 2012.

Despite everything, the vital question that matters is how the Subroto Cup has contributed to the senior Indian football team. The answer - majorly.

Some of the greatest Indian players of all time were first spotted at this very tournament. The current Indian team also consists of many players that have grown up playing the Subroto Cup. Here is a list of just some of the players that have played for the India team while making their way up using this prestigious tournament:

Shyam Thapa

Parimal Dey

Mohan Singh

Ajay Kumar Singh

Victor Amalraj

Prashanto Banerjee

Parminder Singh

Harjinder Singh

Shyamal Banerjee

Chinmoy Chatterjee

Kabir Bose

Baichung Bhutia

Sangram Mukherjee

Pratap Senapati

VP Sathyan

Bijen Singh

Amit Das

Ashin Biswas

VP Satish Kumar

Nirmal Chhetri

Robin Singh

Jackichand Singh

Indian football might have a long way to go before the Blues are seen at the biggest stage of them all – the FIFA World Cup. The lack of academies for the underage kids make it difficult to produce talented players. It is this gap, that the Subroto Cup fills with aplomb by giving the youngsters a platform, while, at the same time, bridging the gap between India and the other established countries.

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