How India can become a footballing force in the near future
If it were left to the I-league to push forward football in the country, we would probably qualify for the world cup at some point in the future, when the night elves take over the world. Basically never! God bless the Indian Super League (Indian Super League), although it encompasses crass commercialization and gimmicky aspects, it had what was needed to kick-start a revolution in this country. Its introduction has breathed life into the corpse of Indian football, and has finally turned a few heads in a cricket-obsessed nation.
The organisers of the tournament did a smart thing by modeling it on the ever-successful Indian Premier League (IPL). Huge investments, celebrity glamour, a league anthem, the similarities are endless. The introduction of this league is great for giving this nation that vital push towards the right direction. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in other areas, before we can dream of singing our national anthem at the top of the football hierarchy.
The growth of the sport has to be organic, right from the grass-roots level. There are many areas that need to be addressed in this country; however, the most important facets of the game that need to be addressed are – infrastructure, scouting, coach education and referee training.
There are around 34 stadiums in India officially devoted to football, but only a handful of them are up to world standards. The Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata (120,000), Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (60,000) in New Delhi are the biggest football stadiums in India.
Other stadiums such as the Ambedkar Stadium (20,000), the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack (45,000), the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar (55,000), the Paljor Stadium in Gangtok (25,000) and the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Shillong (25,000) are some of the stalwart grounds in the country.
Certainly better quality stadiums with good facilities would be a big draw for crowds in the country, which would certainly help increase the abysmal attendance per game. Along with stadiums, more natural grass playing fields would help by giving a push to casual football. Only places where turbulent weather is a problem, artificial playing turfs are always an option. They are expensive to install, but much cheaper to maintain than normal grass.
However, just having an infrastructure will not kick-start the nation’s football revolution. The players need to be provided with the right footballing environment from the ground upwards. At present, almost all clubs registered with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) have no youth academies. There are no structured methods for scouting young talent, and in a country with 1.2 billion people, that is nothing short of a travesty.
Scouting agencies and academies are needed to plant the seeds of growth. Agencies can serve the primary role of spotting talent, all around the country, while the academies can nurture them.
The AIFF has just 3 academies under its name: Elite Academy Goa, Regional Academy Goa and Regional Academy Kolkata. Other private academies include Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools (BBFS), Premier Indian Football Academy (PIFA) and the Tata Football Academy (TFA). More of such academies are needed at systematic points around the country.
Coaching provides a path for players to lead their ultimate goal. Without them, a team would not be a team, a player will not fulfill his potential, and the style of play will be directionless.
Currently, India has the following coaching licenses:
The numbers clearly suggest that it’s not enough!
Referee education must go hand in hand with coach education. At the moment, India has only 2000 referees, across all grades. If you compare this to a small country like Japan, which has 250,000, it’s abysmal to say the least.Quality should not be ignored to increase the quantity of referees. Good quality referees can make split second decisions when the stakes are high, and this is imperative as more sponsors and investors enter the fray.
Other facets of the game also need addressing like sports nutrition, development of a philosophy, but I feel with the above-mentioned points is what need immediate attention for India to pave their way into the World Cup.