Despite Mrs. Nita Ambani reiterating after the new Indian Super League 2017 promo that the future is football, the future is still uncertain to say the least. Even though the growth has been immensely positive, some regional, cultural, and sociological issues will have to be tackled before India moves on to being a footballing nation.
U17 World Cup
With all-time highest scoring and attendance records when compared to any of the previous U-17 World Cups, India is set to become the hotbed of football (enthusiasts). Currently, the record is held by China for the inaugural edition in 1985 at 12,30,976 or 1.23 million spectators. In India, 12,24,027 or 1.22 million have turned up for the tournament which was hosted in 6 cities, which is just 6,949 less than the current record . With the final and third place match yet to be played in Kolkata tonight, the world cup has been tremendously successful in engaging fans and promoting the game in India. This should show the world how passionate India is about the game.
Regarding the team’s performance, Navy Kapadia, who is a renowned football writer and commentator, sums it up perfectly for Times of India.
“The team’s biggest takeaway is the confidence gained by competing against quality teams. It was creditable that they kept their shape, stayed well organised and restricted scoring chances of opponents. Fitness level was exceptional. Above all, they got people interested in football and media coverage was extensive.”
Special mention for Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, the 16 year old goalkeeper from Manipur who showed what he’s capable of in keeping international sides at a stalemate for as long as he could.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced on 25th October 2017 that a new national youth league will be starting from November 2017 onward. This U-13 I-league will join the other youth categories of U15, U18 and U20 I-leagues. These will also be the first youth leagues to introduce the ‘Homegrown’ rule which states that a minimum number of 6 homegrown players, players born in the same state as the club, need to be registered in the squad. A total of 206 teams, 70 teams in U13, 80 in U-15, and 56 in U18 have confirmed their participation.
It is very exciting news because the gap that existed between a school or youth academy player and becoming a professional football player is shortening. There was no clear path for a high school graduate to follow, if he was to follow his dream of becoming a football star in the country. These leagues will provide a platform for them to now perform and eventually get scouted and play for bigger & better clubs and so on.
At least that’s how it looks on paper. I think the growth will come from a different angle all together. This concept of leagues and tournaments and grand finale and glamour is loved in India and that’s why that’s the news parents (of those academy kids) want to hear. However, I think the real potential is in AIFF’s Academy Accreditation Program (AAAP). If implemented correctly, all the academies have to follow certain measures such as having the right equipment, infrastructure, coaches and the likes which are to be expected from an average football academy.
Player development is something that has to be taken seriously, the aim of the academy should not be to win games and tournaments. It should be the growth of each individual player from his football skills to his personal life. India intrinsically only supports wins, and hence, tournaments and leagues. So there’s still a long way to go for player development to be a real thing in India. These leagues will certainly give the players the exposure and competition that they need but at the same time, it will be a blow to the losing academy players’ morale when they should know that they’re only kids and they need to learn a lot before they start to think about winning.
India’s sport of choice?
It’s true that football is catching up to cricket and slowly becoming India’s sport of choice. Tarun Roy, former international player among renowned industry leaders, sums up the current state of the industry for The Hindu.
“You can play club football and make a good living. Football may fetch you a Government job. You can go on to become a coach or a referee once you retire from active football. The competition can be stiff, but there is something on offer at every step.”
Former FIFA Regional Head for South Asian Football, Shaji Prabhakaran who has recently taken over Delhi United agrees.
“Football helps you develop as an individual.” he notes, “We have lagged in this department but I am happy to say that our youth are accepting football as a great team sport. It teaches you camaraderie, and more importantly, makes you accept defeat as part of the process. It teaches you the essence of team work. Individual skills don’t count in this wonderful team game.”
Former international player and India’s women’s team coach, Anadi Barua sums up how easy it is for kids to start their career in Football.
“The playing kit does not cost much. The academies also don’t charge a high fee for coaching. It is a common man’s game with a global appeal. Let your child play football and become a disciplined citizen”.
It is true that you do not need heaps of cash for success in Football. Aizawl FC won the I-League with a budget of ₹ 2.5 crore ($ 384,000), one-fifth of Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Bengaluru FC. This was largely influenced by the talent from Northeast, which could be an article in itself so I’d leave it for later.
New start-ups and organizations specializing in football along with world class pitches and fields are opening up new avenues and directions for football to go and grow. If the future really is football, that remains to be seen but it sure looks like there’s light at the end of this tunnel.