Indian Football at the Crossroads

We heard a lot of different voices during the group discussion on Indian Football at the Crossroads, organised by Hindustan Football Club at India Habitat Centre on December 18 but there was one striking bond that linked the voices together – a boundless passion for Indian football. Moderated by football analyst Novy Kapadia, the group discussion featured people from different streams – football administration, football coaching, a tournament organiser, the CEO of a sports academy and representatives of sports media. Here are my notes from the group discussion.

Sunando Dhar, I League CEO

New things happening at AIFF: The Rs 700 crore 15 year marketing deal with IMG Reliance will benefit Indian football. Likely to announce broadcast and sponsorship deals in 7-10 days. Looking to professionalise the set-up with a new Secretary-General in place. A new beginning and a firm commitment to take Indian football to the next level. We have been stuck in a hole for a long time now.

Clubs need to fulfill certain criteria if they have to stay in the I-League fold. Some clubs are still stuck in the last century. They need to improve infrastructure and embrace development programmes and be professionally run. Some young clubs like Shillong Lajong, Pune FC and Viva Kerala have already shown that this is possible.

Rathindra Basu, Sr. Director (Business Development), ESPN Star Sports India

There has been a huge change in the past few years when cable and satellite TV has got home the best of world football each weekend.

Indian players need to be identified early and have proper coaching, nutrition and planned careers. Foreign players make money in India and go back. There is not much development of Indian football. There is a need for a solid pipeline that gives us good players. There is a need for much work at grassroot level.

Hugh Kim Lewis, UEFA A Licence Coach

There is a growing passion for the game in India.

Stadia in the 80s were a disgrace but funded by EPL and Sky Sports, they changed and people could take their families to the grounds. The best players came to play in England. Coaching also became a recognized profession. It was not just the former players who became coaches. Sports science was embraced by football. In 1996, coach education was standardized and that is what India has to do now. The basic principles must be the same anywhere so that the process is flexible as the player evolves from u-12 to senior ranks.

Clubs need massive investment in starting academies and centres of excellence. Local clubs must encourage schools to send those interested in football to their academies. The Dutch follow this system and the Germans too. The media must support the development process.

Coaches are the lifeblood of the system. We are not manufacturers of spare parts but we can help players avoid pitfalls. Maradona example of how coaches did not discourage him because he was only left-footed. It is not money that coaches must love. It means a lot to be able to bring about change so that an emerging nation can catch up with the rest of the world soon. Coaches must teach correctly and with passion.

We must think about the whole spectrum not just the national team. The US invested heavily in correct coaching methods and soccer is now the most participated sport there.

Shamya Dasgupta, Sports Editor, News X

We must make football a priority in India if it is to shine not just as an emerging economy. The intent has to be there. The Rs 700 crore from IMG Reliance has to be used correctly.

Rajat Mukherjee, Ex Secretary, DCM Football tournament, Delhi

We have serious problems as a nation. Football only reflects this. We are looking for charismatic leaders and heroes all the time. We don’t want team success. The secretaries of football clubs are powerful but everyone needs to be interested in the development of the game. It is a huge uphill task.

Sukhwinder Singh, Managing Director, Libro Sports India

Football is at a take off point in India. Indian team has qualified for the Asian Cup after many years. IMG Reliance has come in now. AIFF is getting into bed with a number of football loving institutions, structuring sponsorship opportunities and improving player representations./

Amit Saran, CEO and MD, SPT Sports Academy, Bangalore

Football has always been at the crossroads and we have always taken the wrong turn. We need to take the right turn. We need more academies to fuel the need of the young players.

G Rajaraman

There are 6540 clubs, 3.5 million registered players in India and enough money for football players but if India is ranked 142 in the world, there must be something seriously wrong. The media must find a good balance and cover local football. Our players need to be respected and made to feel like stars for the young to start playing rather than just become mute spectators (110 million Indians watched the FIFA World Cup 2010). Unless the Federation, coaches, media and sponsors make the Indian players central to their plans, Indian football will be struck at the crossroads.

Nilanjan Dutta, Sr. Sports Reporter, News X

Players need to change attitude and not just be satisfied with getting contracts at home. They need to have the hunger to go out of India and showcase their skills. Bhutia did that many years ago and now Chhetri is doing that. We need more players to go out and play in various leagues. Their dreams should not go for a toss as soon as they get jobs or 20-25 lakh contracts.