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Interview with grassroots football expert Tom Byer: "Technical ability of young Indian kids lags behind other Asian countries"

The American also had a stint in Japan with Hitachi FC, which is now known as Kashiwa Reysol and was the first American to play in Asia.

Tom Byer
Byer has had a huge hand in turning things around for Japanese football (Image courtesy: Thesefootballtimes)

Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda might be playing for big European clubs now, putting Japan firmly on the map of the footballing world, but a lot of hard work has been done behind the scenes to achieve this, and Tom Byer has been a big part of it. 

After Byer finished his professional career in the USA, he concentrated his efforts on youth football in Japan, and since 1989, he and Japanese football have come leaps and bounds. In what is good news for Indian football fans, Byer has now concentrated his attention on India. Sportskeeda spoke to the American about his journey, India’s potential for football, and a whole lot more.

“I’ve been to India before, Mumbai, although now is my first time in Hyderabad,” Byer says when asked if it was his first time in India.

Not one to muck around, Byer gets straight to the point, when asked about youth football in India. He says “First of all, it’s no secret, the technical ability of young Indian kids lags behind other Asian countries.” 

He also explains the solution to this problem, by saying “Technical development needs to start at a much younger age. We have started a program that starts this development for kids aged 2-6. We also have to educate the parents and we have started doing that.”

Asked if he felt parents of academically inclined Indian children would be easily convinced to let their children play football, Byer said, “We are doing this first and foremost is good for a child’s well-being. Dr. John Ready has from Harvard has proved that kids who have physical activity, do better academically, and which Indian parent does not want their child to do well academically?” 

Byer also spoke about the grassroots program started by the AIFF, “While it’s commendable, 3-4-5 year old kids don’t exist in the eyes of the federation. They only look at older kids. Football education, therefore, needs to start at home, because that’s where a child spends most of his time – in the living room.”

Football starts at home

The American also stated how great players learn football on their own, without a coach. “These players are not coached. This is because they come from footballing cultures. Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, Beckham – Most of these players credit their fathers or brothers for taking them outside to play. That is what we are saying – Football starts at home!”

“Grassroots football does not necessarily mean developing players. A lot of times, it is just fun, or getting outdoor to play.”

The topic then switched to coaching, and the youth football expert stated, “Coaches can only coach players if they have some skill. Famous coaches cannot develop Indian kids unless there is a culture at home. When the kids are so bad technically, what are the coaches going to teach the kids?”

Also read: AIFF's plan for a new league: Will it change the future of Indian football?   

When asked if he could have the same impact in India as he did in Japan, Byer was optimistic, “I don’t know, Japan was a special place. But having said that, I have now written books and developed a new philosophy, and if I implement that here, as I have done with my kids, who are now good players, India will surely have a world class team given time.”

Byer then highlighted the work that he is involved with in other countries. He specified the Bundesliga, in Germany, and Qatar as destinations where he is taking his work. Let’s hope the special coach makes an impact here in India, too.

Transcripted by: Ashok Kesari 

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