India in · U-17 World Cup

P.K MUKHERJEE

The team being trained for last few years in camp under the tutelage of expert coaching and support staff, has shown satisfactory performance on the ground – not from points earned, but football display against world class teams qualified through tough continental matches. India, having qualified being host nation, grabbed the opportunity to create a team of young talented footballers scouted from length and breadth of the country, even going offshore to pick the boys of Indian origins.

Ultimately we got players like Dheeraj, Anwar, Rahim, Amarjeet, Jeakson, Abhijit, Rahul, Aniket, Boris, Komal and others who have displayed football mentality on the pitch against tough teams like USA, Columbia and Ghana. We must not forget that our team is handicapped in the size of players due to hereditary lineage but that did not deter our courageous boys to go for all balls- be it aerial or otherwise. Yes, the team need to have maturity at the same range as that of other teams of the world in same age group, as well as finesse, particularly in front of opponent goals – but that does not come in one off attempt to create one team over a few years but sustained and focused football training under best coaches of the world with proper infrastructure facilities.

The nation of 1.25 billion people are happy though, with the performance of the team and hopes the same group of boys are allowed to grow properly under football loving clubs of the world or under an appropriate national structure with an eye to qualify for 2026 world cup by which time the quota of Asian teams is going to increase.

Team India OFF the ground

This team consists of two main groups, namely Governments (both Central and Provincial Governments) and the national football federation, namely All India Football Federation (AIFF) along with the state football federations where some delegation of responsibilities made by AIFF.

The Governments on its part provided the stadium infrastructures along with training turfs of international quality in time. It also helped in providing adequate security arrangements for the teams and in conducting the matches. I should say that the taxpayers’ money is well spent in these regards (don’t know if in future some scams/CAG observations would emerge as to right pricing/propriety in contracting).

So far as AIFF’s role is concerned, the following points may be noted:

l Head Coach changed just a few months before the actual tournament. As a result, the scheme of formation for the matches not only changed (e.g. 4-4-2, 4-3-2-1, etc.) but also new players inducted into camp like the scorer of the Columbia match Jeakson, who didn’t find favour with earlier coach.

l The actual trophy went round the country for viewing by general public as well as to create a tempo for the tournament – however, there was absolute mess in planning the same as is evident from what happened in Goa – the trophy arrived in the state without the knowledge of the people who matters, nor the general public was aware; as a result, after the trophy arrived, the ministers tried to be contacted to make a public show, but miserably failed as there were no prior information.

l Most of the grounds were not full. In Goa, it was announced that matches were sold out (excluding VIP seats and sponsor quotas which collectively is about 15% of the capacity) but significant numbers of so called ‘sold out’ seats were empty – are we supposed to understand that the people decided to waste the tickets after purchase or some tickets were grabbed/kept to be grabbed for black marketing but didn’t succeed? And what about the seats not sold but given for VIPs or sponsors? No accountability for such seats going vacant in large numbers (except for a very few matches)? I know how such things are handled in ISL matches to ensure such seats don’t remain vacant.

l The AIFF must appreciate that the football nations of the world had come up through the culture of Club Football duly supplemented by Government support – both financially and morally in different forms. While the first attempt to field a team in U 17 world cup as a host nation could not have been better attempted except as was done by housing the scouted boys under the banner of AIFF for last few years, it must encourage and enforce the professional development of age group footballs through clubs. We must have a rolling 10 year football plan of the nation instead of deciding to appoint a coach for U 19 team just one month before the Asian continental tournament. The development models through club footballs are available and the same needs to be adapted to our needs. It’s also of huge concern to note from some media reports that AIFF is thinking of creating a team of these boys who have participated in the U 17 world cup so that these boys are kept in shape and further developed. Please, Please do not venture into such ideas – it’d be a disaster. Most of the European and Latin American players participating in this tournament are not only the products of various club academies but already attached to various clubs. Sancho of England was even called back by Dortmund in between the tournament itself. Rather please one can even  ask the world experts for proper football wisdom – I’m sure that they’d suggest to allow the players to go for good clubs (by giving proper support to market these players including professional help in contracting) for which all the famous international clubs’ scouts are presently in India.

Overall, Thumbs Up to India team U 17.