The U-15 Coca-Cola Cup: The harbinger of happiness for Indian football?
Take a look at the winners of the U-17 FIFA World Cup (and its predecessors the FIFA U-17 and U-16 World Championships) over the years, and you behold a wonderful phenomenon that’s probably the most pleasant surprise FIFA has thrown at us over the years.
Sure, Brazil has predictably won it thrice, but for once they aren’t on top of the footballing records – that honour goes to four-time winners Nigeria! France won it in 2001, but so did Switzerland eight years later. Mexico, Ghana and even Saudi Arabia are previous winners of the tournament.
You see, the U-17 competition is the tournament of ‘hope’ for the world of football – a way for the ‘other’ nations to create some noise in a world that is unbelievable dominated by the clique of the South American and European elite.
It will be India’s turn to host the wonderful tournament in 2017, and the second most populous nation in the world seems intent on finding a way to show everyone that it is indeed football’s next big surprise lying in wait.
As the storied pedigree of the cup shows, that may not be too foolhardy a task. But for that, we first need a mini-revolution in terms of the approach to football. And it has to start at the grassroots.
The Coca-Cola Cup and its place in the Indian football revolution
For a sport that is so often neglected by mainstream media, football is seeing the beginnings of a revolution that may just alter the Indian sporting psyche. And at the heart of all this is the All India Federation and its partnership with Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola has been doing its bit for grassroots football in the country for some time now. In 2009, when the AIFF signed them up as the main sponsors for the Mir Iqbal Hussain Trophy - the country’s premier school tournament – that grassroots football in India was taken to a whole new level.
Their partnership has revitalized the competition – now being held under the moniker of the Coca-Cola Cup - and today it boasts the participation of over 40,000 eager young footballers from over 2,500 schools across nearly 86 cities!
The greatest footballing nations have all benefited from strong grassroots movements, with academies that foster the development through professional coaching and talent management. For every El Semillero (home of Diego Maradona & Juan Riquelme, amongst others), La Masia (the soul of Barcelona) and De Toekomst (Ajax’s famed academy), there are a dozen other unheralded academies that lay the groundwork for sustained footballing success in these nations.
In India, that role is taken care of by the AIFF-FIFA academies, a string of football schools that dot the vast nation and look to bring out the next big footballing sensation of the nation. And for young talent, the Coca-Cola Cup is ‘THE’ tournament to win. Targeting players in the age group of 12-15, the Cup showcases the finest young footballers the country has to offer and puts them to the ultimate test of knockout competition.
For all you know, we may just see these youngsters, who have represented their states so wonderfully well in the recently concluded zonal finals, strut their stuff in the blue of their nation’s jersey against the best the world has to offer.
You should keep an eye on the National Finals of the Coca-Cola Cup – you may just end up witnessing the birth of some new Indian sporting legends!