Alien to the current ears, India had once finished at 4th place in football at the Olympics. It was a time when all team greats like P.K Banerjee and Late Kesto Pal had the capability to tear through any defensive structure of the opposite team. 1956 Melbourne Olympics was a staggering example of what Indian football could have been if pushed into the right direction. Kolkatan’s still reminisces the legends of Late Sailen Manna who could stop incoming forwards with a neat slide tackle barefooted.
In these fond golden memories of Indian football, today India has a miserable FIFA ranking of 137. It is still better than what it was a couple of years back when India slipped down to 170’s due to lack of international exposure.
The fall that led India to this 170th spot in international rankings can be attributed to one historical indecision by the All Indian Football Federation.
In the year 1948, India got a chance to play the World Cup hosted in Brazil, the federation decided not to send the team since in two years Helsinki Olympic was coming up and for the federation the Olympics was bigger than the football World Cup. The word that still goes around the Kolkata street is that they could not participate since they were used to play barefooted and FIFA did not accept that. The legend itself goes onto say that what great capabilities were these footballers gifted of.
Not only did the federation failed to gauge the importance, but it utterly failed to measure the consequences that the team and the country suffered from that horrific decision that still makes India suffer in terms of infrastructure.
70 years ahead into the mortal timeline…that generation has passed. The generation that refused a direct qualification to the world cup; today in 2017 India has received another direct qualification to the under-17 world cup for this time it host to the tournament. For we had learnt the art of throwing the cap from our ancestors this time we made sure that we grab onto this invaluable opportunity. But is India ready?
It’s a no brainer that India is leagues behind in developments related to football against the major playing nations, can this be an opportunity to revamp itself and arrive at the world stage?
Once a continental powerhouse, India with all its glories in the rear view mirror is moving towards an uncertain future. Indian football in the 2000’s and in the early part of this decade didn’t have a proper grass root development structure.
What the federation sew 70 years back is what India is reaping currently. That one decision sent India 100 years behind in football from Europe and rest of the western world.
But then again the Indian spirit has never quite been a quitter. India in the past decade has produced legends like Bhaichung Bhutia, Subrata Pal and Sunil Chhetri. Since the inception of ISL many experts hope that India just might come out of its downward spiral and as we speak it truly is.
The steady flow of funds to the league from major franchises along with television rights has turned quite a few heads in the western world.
Fortune favours the brave; India has been given a chance to host the Under-17 football world cup, the largest football tournament that India will host in its history. This is the best thing that could have happened to India at this time as the sport is gaining popularity in the country and the standards that FIFA sets for its tournament will give India a huge benefit from the infrastructural and exposure point of view. The grounds, the training facilities are being revamped to set European standards and in their last visit the official have returned to the head-quarters without any complaints. AIFF only needs to make sure that they are able to hold onto these standards in the future.
For the under-17 players for India who have received a direct qualification the exposure is certainly going to be a big factor. Playing in such a huge tournament at this age not only builds character but also expands the dimensions of the experience that is required in the future.
This is the first Indian team to play the football world cup and that itself can be daunting; but Eugeneson Lyngdo, India’s mid-field powerhouse is hopeful “At such an early age, they would have already gained such valuable experience. I am sure some of these players can end up playing in Europe someday. And when it happens, playing alongside these players will benefit the senior Indian players and the team.
He is of the view that this tournament will have a ripple effect and the future Indian team would be destined for great things to come. In terms of infrastructure Lyngdo believes “Eventually and hopefully, India will follow all these, so the infrastructure of Indian football will grow,”
This is truly very exciting times for Indian football, with more and more players coming to Asia to play football at their prime, India is also garnering some exposure from the legends and former players. Imaging a Roberto Carlos taking a free kick would have been impossible a decade back but today it is a reality that the ISL has achieved. English Premier League’s one of the topmost clubs, Liverpool has set up its grass root academy with Pune’s DSK Shivajians. It would not be very wrong to predict that India will very soon arrive at the world stage knocking the doors of major competitions.
The ISL is going to be instrumental in this development since it has the money, the ability to get exposure and the big guns of the world and finally the inherent structure in its regulations that brings out talent from the remote parts of the country.
Known as the sleeping giant of Asian football, the under-17 world cup could just be the trigger to wake up, with ISL doing a fantastic job in parts like the North-East where football has been very popular, but lack of funds has always been a huge issue for players to come up. The state of art infrastructure provided by FIFA could just be the perfect complement for the footballing fraternity of the country and could ricochet into the big launch that the country has been waiting for.
In October the Saltlake Stadium awaits.