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India in dire need of its own style of football

Once known for its skillfull approach, India now lacks distinctive style and strategy


Sunil Chettri tries to score past the goalkeeper

Every team has its own style of play. If we look at the top powerhouses of Europe we can see each country has distinctive style of play. Spain plays the possession game also known as Tiki-Taka. The Italian team plays a more defensive style of play known as Catenacio. English team plays Orthodox brand of football with direct long balls over the midfield. So what is the football style of India? 

One of the stars of the Indian Super League Gustavo Marmentini dos Santos of the Delhi Dynamos once quoted in an interview that " Indian football is similar to English style which is fast, intense and physical." 

India's leading football expert Novy Kapadia said " From 1956 to 1962, India were the best in Asia and called the ‘Brazil of Asia’ because they played skilful short-passing football, with the focus on body swerves and dribbling.”

So where has the style of play gone? According to Kapadia, India surrendered their football identity by bowing to the wishes of every foreign coach. The numbers back up his claim. Since the 1980s, nine of India’s coaches (out of 16) have been foreigners. From Serbian Milovan iri to Jií Pešek of the Czech Republic, they have all brought their own philosophy and style, but contributed neither to a sustained stability nor a well-developed identity.

This clearly shows that India has failed to adapt to the European style of play which has led to the downfall of Indian football which was once known as the 'Brazil of Asia'. It's quite obvious that former footballing legends of India has put the blame on the AIFF and team management for imposing the European style rather than playing to our players strength.

India plays most of their matches with 4-4-2 formation which is one of the oldest style of play in Europe. The style mainly focusses on defence and breaking on counter from both the flanks. Sounds like a good tactics for a small team who plays most of their matches against team of higher ranks, but why isnt it showing any results? The answer is obvious that our players lack speed which makes it almost impossible for us to break on counter.

Another thing which can be noticed that in recent times India’s style of play has mainly focussed on long balls and crosses. With the height of almost all strikers and midfielders less than 6 feet, playing on crosses and long balls becomes completely out of question. But still national team coach Steve Constantine imposes his out of favour ideas upon the players, the result can be clearly seen in the latest FIFA ranking where India is ranked at 163.

Brazilian legend Zico during his stint in the Indian Super League as the coach of F.C Goa made an interesting point that India needs to find a style of football that suits them.  "Brazil's football comes from it's diverse cultures. It is a big country and every region has it's own distinctive style. Bring them together and we have Brazil. India is a very big country too and it needs to use it's unique diversity to figure out it's own style. There is no use adapting someone else's style. It has to be a style that you can play too."

At present India don't have their own style of play and their continuous quest to adapt European style of football is doing more harm than good to Indian football. India's recent performance has been disastrous. In March 2016, the Indian men’s football team defended stoically against Iran in a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier.Iran went on to win 4-0 and for much of the second half, India played with a ludicrous 8-1-1 formation, or so pundits and fans pointed out. The end result was not entirely unexpected. 

Barcelona Team fired the imagination of the world with their brand of Tiki-Taka which was not only successfully at club level but also enormously contributed to the success of their national team. To regain the same status in football which we had during the early 1950's we need to outline a road-map to help us create our own style of play and implement it at the grassroot level which will bore fruits in a long run.

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