Posts Tagged ‘cricket’

What’s wrong with Indian football?

Indian Soccer : Past, Present and the Future.

While watching the Confederation Cup, I happened to wonder about India. More specifically, why a country with 1.1 billion citizens never been to the World Cup ? Why has India’s soccer team never ranked higher than 100 since 1993?:(

Football, as described by one of its greatest players as “the beautiful game”, football, the game that the poorest of the poor can play and succeed in, football, the game that has been defined by UNICEF as the greatest unifier of children across the globe.

In India, like cricket, football was imported by the British as a summer evening pastime. The first significant privately formed club was Mohun Bagan, who went to create history in 1911 by beating East York Regiment 2-1 in the IFA Cup final. Later, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting also challenged the British regime time and again with their performances on the field.

Post independence, Indian football reached new heights. The five Pandavas led by Appa Rao played for East Bengal as they conquered one Asian club after another, that too bare foot. Excellent results followed in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, with Neville D’ Souza’s hat trick in 1952 and India reaching the last four the same year.

In fact, India could have been the first Asian country to play WC Football in 1950, but for the fact that they wanted to play bare feet, something which FIFA didn’t allow; despite Nehru’s best efforts (North Korea later had this distinction).

Asian domination was on for the next decade, with India winning everything in sight. One brilliant footballer came after another – Sailen Manna, T Ao, PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Peter Thangaraj, Shyam Thapa and others.

Famous goalkeeper of 1970 Tarun Basu was considered the best goal keeper ever produced in Asia who used to pick up high lob ball in just one hand in front of the opponent players with ease .

However, all good things seem to come to an end – so did Indian domination in football. India, once ranked 7th by FIFA in the world, began to spiral down from the early 70s, reaching a Nadir in the early 2000s – a 157 rank. Currently India is languishing at 147 in fifa rankings. The other Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, UAE and Saudi Arabia made rapid strides while we kept on sliding back.

What were the possible reasons? Let’s have a look :

(1) Club over country –This debate, a comparatively recent phenomenon in European leagues, started way back in 1970s in India. Club football, especially for East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, was highly rewarding compared to national duties, especially in monetary terms. Playing for clubs like Mahindra and Mahindra and JCT also ensured jobs. Injuries picked up in domestic tournaments made a player skip national duties, and led to a decline in performance in the long term

(2) 70 minute matches in domestic football – In India, domestic football matches were of 70 minutes duration – this was fine as long FIFA did the same, however, when international matches began to be of 90 minutes from the early 50s, India failed to catch up. Most of the players were physically conditioned to play for 70 minutes, and multiple goals were conceded in the last 20 minutes

(3) Influx of foreign players – in 1970, AIFF opened the doors to foreign players to play in the local leagues. The intention was noble – to improve the level of football of domestic players through competition. However, it started to have a negative effect. The clubs arm twisted AIFF to have more foreign players per team than stipulated initially – this was done with the short term goal of winning tournaments and earns a quick buck. However, big bodied players (mostly African), mostly rejected by their local leagues made little or no impact other than injuring the smaller sized Indian players. They were mercenaries, and fled after making a quick buck. Only a handful, like Majid Basker, Jamshed Nasiri and Chima Okorie contributed with their experience to help the Indian players.

(4) Growth of cricket post 1983 WC – when Kapil Dev help the Prudential ICICI Trophy aloft at Lords’ on that memorable Saturday evening, it sounded the death knell for most other Indian sports. Sponsorship money flew in to cricket, leaving other sports high and dry. Indian youth no longer found it practical to play football to run their families or attain fame – cricket was THE GAME. Hockey survived on for some time, but only because it was still our national game

(5) Lack of sponsorships,prize money and apathy of the Government– continued from the above point. Only a handful of Corporates wanted to sponsor this sport, now a distant second to cricket in popularity. Even the Government’s interest gradually began to fade. The Indian Govt probably sees no reason to fund sports which their people have no interest in, and since the cultural impetus isn’t there to start the other sports up they just don’t get going. There are no takers for football… But India is a culture of cricket, and football is at best a second tier sport (competing with tennis, field hockey, even chess). So, until Nike’s money starts trickling down to the youth development level, and India can get good coaches (Bob Houghton is not exactly Alex Ferguson) India will not be good. But the future is bright.

(6) Lack of Proper Facilities and Infrastructure – Infrastructure and playing facilities in the top clubs and at district level is very poor. Low standard of training facilities, grounds, stadiums, hotels amenities etc; in the country add to soccer woes. Considering the fact that there is a huge turnout spectator during matches involving big clubs, lack of facilities is totally unacceptable,” said Spittler.

(7) Decline of Santosh Trophy – our national tournament, once the hotbed of discovering new stars, slowly reduced to a no-show due to bad scheduling and negligence by clubs (who refused to leave their “star” players), AIFF (did not care to find sponsors) and players themselves.

(8) Politicization and bureaucratization of the sport – Like most other Indian sports, the apex body, AIFF was headed by a politician (for close to 20 years, it is now held by another politician), who ran it like his personal fiefdom. Most of the top positions were given on basis of political affiliation, and the state bodies became hotbeds of corruption.

Money reserved for sport or anything for that matter, often fills the pockets of bureaucrats. When it comes to soccer selection it is essential that a minimum no. of players are recruited into the teams from each zone. Zonal selection policy turned biased and partial of late.

(9) No international tournaments in India – we had one, the Nehru Cup, where we dominated the best teams to win at one stage. Even when we lost, we had our boys play against top teams across the globe like Cameroon, Romania and Mexico. Gradually, this tournament died, again due the factors like low sponsorship and lack of interest. Thankfully it was revived last year and we emerged as the winner of Nehru Cup first time.

(10) Lack of icons in recent times – Cricket has lots of them, shooting had its Jaspal Rana, Anjali Ved Pathak and now Abhinav Bindra, athletics had PT Usha and Anju Bobby George, even Golf had Jeev Milkha Singh. However, in recent times, there has been no footballer who has been held in that high a regard. IM Vijayan, Jo paul Ancheri and Bruno Coutinho were great footballers, but they had little or no media appeal. Bhaichung and Sunil Chhetry in recent times have had their moments of glory in the media, but are not really in the same league as the cricketers. Baichung’s Bury FC stint too, has been thrown off in the dustbins of history.

(11) Climate – Climate is other factor. Playing football for 90 minutes in 100-120 °F temperature is not easy task for not so big build up Indian guys.

(12) More importance to education – Negative attitude of parents taking Soccer not as a Full time career option for their children is another reason for the lack of interest for soccer in this country. Our government spends many times more on education than on sports. Parents don’t feel that a full-time career in this game can provide economic security to their children.

Is Indian football beyond revival? I don’t like to believe so, in fact, I pray to the contrary.:)