Wynton Rufer is a retired New Zealand international footballer, most famously known for his stints at FC Zurich, Werder Bremen and his 2 goals over 2 legs in the European League that knocked out a Maradona-led Napoli side. The NZ footballer was in India to help the game develop and he speaks about what he thinks Indian football needs in order for it to become a top side.
What brought you to India?
When I played in Germany with Werder Bremen, I had a friend in New Delhi who was involved with YMCA. He has been inviting me to India for the past couple of years to be a part of a football initiative.
We then got in touch with people at German Embassy, who were quite supportive of the entire program and it kicked off. I ran the actual camp for the kids who took part. We had about 120 kids who signed up for the 2 days.
How has the entire campaign gone about? What exactly was you role in this campaign?
I am part of a quite a big soccer school in Auckland called WYNRS. I also have a very big community program and it was extremely important for me to involve under-privileged kids in the initiative in India. We had about 30 kids that the YMCA had organized for to be part of the camp and it was nice to be able to share my experience with them.
We all had a great time, had sponsorships with FIFA, Werder Bremen and even Bayern Munich. The entire campaign was very well supported.
Was there a criteria for selecting these kids, apart from the 30 odd under-privileged kids?
No, nothing. The entire campaign was more about doing something for the children and though I do not know the exact details of how the kids were selected, I know it was from a host of different schools who were involved in the program. And yes, just like the Germans, it was very well organized.
Have you had the chance to have a close look at Indian football?
Well, I know Indian football is ranked 168th (now 143rd) in the world. I know the FIFA signed an agreement with the AIFF to try and develop the game here during the next 10 years.
I’m happy to say that I am involved as well in helping football grow in developing countries. I have been doing it for 15 years and when I got the chance, I knew that would be an easy thing for me to do.
What do you think India lacks? Where should our focus lie in order to become a successful footballing nation?
The game needs to be developed from the grassroots. There’s a lot that needs to be done to better the game in India. This is a really small start, but of course it’s going to take a lot more time for it to get to where it wants to be. Like in New Zealand, it took a substantial amount of time. It took 16 years and did not happen overnight. Hopefully, I will play a part in making something happen in India.
If India succeeds in getting to host the 2017 U-17 World Cup, then it would be a huge boost for the awareness and development of the game in the country.
I read about your proposal to have a school of excellence; a football academy partnered with a top-class football school? Where did this idea come from? Do you think such schools are the need of the hour, especially for countries where football has failed to gain a foothold?
When the entire thing was planned, my first question was whether I will come again. Because if I don’t, it defeats the purpose. A development program needs to pick up kids at a young age and get them to blossom. I am extremely keen to be a part of such a revolution.
It is one of the ways for a country to make steady progress. For eg., our academy back at NZ has been a great success. We work with schools and clubs in New Zealand and have been able to come up with many top players. Marco Rojas is one of the top players in the A-League – he was from my academy. He was on Liverpool‘s radar while many German clubs are keen on him as well. So things are very positive in that regard. Chris Wood was from the academy. Michael Fitzgerald in the J-League is a product of the academy as well.
Let’s talk about NZ football. You are without doubt one of the greatest footballers NZ has produced, but unfortunately there are only few others who have been able to challenge that. Does that trouble you?
Well, in Oceania – which before 2006 included Australia, they opted for the Asia region. On the list of the top 20 from Oceania, there was only 1 New Zealander. Just the 1. That was me and at the very top. It was a miracle about how I became such a good footballer.
Professional football teams are not present in NZ, except for 1. How important is it for a country to have a professional football league in order for it to develop.
Yes, a professional football league is very important for a country to progress. NZ have just the 1 professional football team and that’s because our population is just 4.5 million. The lack of a professional team has been the reason for the lack of our growth.
India is a big enough nation to have a fully professional league and you need to make that happen. Having semi-professional clubs hampers the country’s growth.
In the World Cup, New Zealand were unbeaten. What was the reaction of the fans to that achievement?
It was a fantastic success on the the world stage.
It is fantastic to have these successes like the Phoenix playing in the A-League in Australia and getting to the play-offs most years, the All-Whites going unbeaten in the World Cup or 3 players from my academy becoming fully professional.
What do think NZ football needs, in order to compete with the big boys?
We need to ensure we play big teams regularly. We need to qualify for the next World Cup. We should qualify for Brazil 2014. We are hosting the U-20 WC in 2015 and a good display there is also quite important.