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India was once home to some of the oldest football clubs in the world. The Indian football team was at its peak in the 1950s. In that decade, India became the best Asian football team. But a lack of foresighted administration and lack of exposure in the foreign leagues are some of the reasons for the decline of Indian football.
But in recent times, India is taking baby steps towards the global goal of improving the quality of football thereby featuring in big football tournaments. The administration is planning to build a roadmap that would lead India to the path of excellence.
Here are some of the steps and measures taken by the administration to help Indian Football grow:
Involvement of former players in AIFF in Indian Football
Kalyan Chaubey was elected as the President of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on September 2, 2022. Chaubey was a goalkeeper in his playing days and played for Mohun Bagan and East Bengal clubs. Many of the key decision making members in the club are also former players.
Along with Chaubey, former players like IM Vijayan a former skipper, inspirational Bhaichung Bhutia, Goan Climax Lawrence, Hyderabad forward and former skipper Shabbir Ali, and national women’s team member Pinky Bompal Magar are part of the governing body.
Having a former player does help in the decision making process as they are familiar with the internal workings of the sport. This, in turn, speeds up the development process and helps in faster improvement in a sport.
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Budget and planning for Indian Football
The AIFF officials are looking to develop a roadmap for Indian sports which they describe as “our Bible for developing football”. This detailed document will have a long term vision for grassroots-level development, infrastructure, hosting big competitions, league development, youth development, women’s football, and producing world-class coaches and match officials. The primary goal of the roadmap is to strengthen 36 football associations to achieve district-level development of young talent.
Prabhakaran said that there will be equal focus on the development of men’s and women’s football. “There will be equal focus on men’s and women’s football,” explains Prabhakaran.
But the major challenge is the funding. While the federation would need Rs 1,000 crore to implement the road map, AIFF’s current budget is Rs 90 crore.
Development at grassroots levels for Indian Football
Apart from 3-4 states like West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Kerala, there are not many football playing states in the country. Discovering talent from non football playing states is another major challenge. Lack of competition means that the talent is not discovered.
Former players and commentators feel that there isn’t an issue with the quality of Indian players. The issue is with the exposure and getting enough chances to showcase their talent. Junior players hardly get 10 matches in a year compared to 30-40 matches abroad.
The head of the AIFF technical committee Vijayan said, “The focus in the future will be on development at the grassroots.”
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Increasing the span of leagues
Roberto Carlos, a Brazilian footballer was the coach of Delhi Dynamos during the 2015-16 season. He soon quit afterward stating that just six months of football in a year is not enough to develop sports in India.
The Indian Super League is played for six months second-tier I-League is played for five months. Vijayan agreed with what Carlos was saying and will be discussing with his colleagues to change the structure of the league. “Players need to be engaged all the time at clubs or the national team,” Vijayan said.
Draw spectators to the stadium
The football fanbase in India is over 200 million and Vijayan and AIFF are looking to draw more spectators to the ground. The more spectators come to see the game, the more it will expand and inspire future generations.
“We need our people to see their national players in action by organizing matches between the Indian team and various states and clubs in venues across the country. Big clubs from Asia and other countries could visit for matches against our national team and clubs. The fans will see more football and the coaches will discover the future talent of Indian football.”