As we reach the conclusion of India’s newest sporting adventure, the thirst to see our country fare better seems greater than ever. The Indian Super League has seen thousands of fans across the country throng to watch the beautiful game, and for what seems like the first time in decades, there has been a palpable sense of excitement about football.
But when we realize that India stands at a lowly 171st position in the latest FIFA Rankings, it does hurt. The lack of international action is a major reason behind that but then, how good has our team been even in the tournaments that it usually plays?
This question has plagued us for long, and the powers that be are now starting to realize the solution to the problem. To cultivate a new generation that could put India in the upper echelons of Asian football, development at the grassroots level is undoubtedly the most important initiative.
There have been several scientific researches that show the healthy lifestyle brought about by sports, not to mention the improved mental fortitude that comes with playing the game. Sports, and football in particular, are the crying need of the young Indian population, and now is as good a time as any to fulfil that need.
However, despite the boom we have seen towards football development, there has been a major gap between the metros and the smaller towns. Suffice it to say that over the years, the amount of opportunities that city youngsters have had, have been much larger in number than those available in villages and towns.
To succeed in installing an effective system that taps the potential of young talents across the country, we should take a cue out of the best in the business. The reigning world champions Germany had major institutional changes back in the early 2000s in the aftermath of their poor Euro performance – changes that ultimately resulted in a World Cup Trophy.
For us to implement such a widespread programme is going to be very tough, considering the lack of mainstream attention and clubs that the I-League has. However, the much-talked about merging of the ISL and I-League could actually prove beneficial in this case, resulting in a wider reach for the game.
To reinforce the importance of developing the sport in the lesser-known places, two of the best footballers of this generation hail from small towns in Argentina and Portugal. This is not to say that we have a Lionel Messi hiding in the valleys of Kashmir, but just a reminder of the potential that can emerge in any corner of the globe.
We have seen English clubs such as Liverpool set up academies and harness talent, and there have been a few efforts along those lines in India too. There has been a visible increase in youngsters taking to football, and while that is hardly made up of people outside the eight big cities that encompass a major portion of the football activity taking place in the country, things may be about to change.
In a country with such a humongous population, a well-structured pyramid of development is the need of the hour. There have been directives to the clubs in the ISL to establish youth academies, and those have been implemented with a fair measure of urgency.
There have been other recent endeavours in this regard too such as the Coca-Cola Cup, which has concentrated on the education of youngsters in the 12-15 age categories. Coca-Cola has been associated with sports for a long time, and this U-15 football venture has been started with a view to cultivate a healthy culture among India’s youth, and also to unearth talent that can represent India in the 2017 U-17 World Cup. Perhaps just as importantly though, the Coca-Cola Cup has been taking football to all corners of the country – from Orissa and Himachal Pradesh to Jharkhand and Mizoram.
The viewers of the ISL have so far been on the lookout for any young Indian star that might turn into a big star, and have been hugely encouraging of the local players’ efforts. Let us extend this hunt to the young population of India too, as we envision a world footballing scenario with India on the forefront. As the Coca-Cola Cup enters the business end, we may be looking at the future of Indian football.
There is a saying that goes, “You always find something in the last place you look.” Who is it that Indian football has yet to find?