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Setting the Goal High
The recently concluded FIFA Under-17 World Cup saw a lot of highs, the first time for India U-17 at an International event in the country, the largest attendance for the games, and the most number of goals scored! Sports expert, Veturi Srivatsa gives his useful insight into the players, the sports and the future for them in India.
Sep 25, 2018 at 00:00







What has the Under-17 World Cup done for football in India? When the championship was allotted to the country the most uncharitable reaction was that this is the only way the country will play in the World Cup!

Has the opinion changed at the end of it all? Not many may have had a change of heart, though they may not be as harsh as they were when the event came to India.

The most damning comment came from top former European international players who were here as part of a FIFA Study Group. One of them went to the extent of saying that India was 50 to 100 years behind world’s elite football nations.

That assessment can be disheartening, but then we need not worry too much about what others think of us, we should see it as a reality check and be positive about the future. We should focus on improving standards with the available resources and in the prevailing conditions. Hosts of any major global event will always have some benefits coming their way and India, too, can claim some.

Organisationally, nothing was found seriously amiss. The packed stadium set a record for age-group World Cups.

After his predecessor Sepp Blatter called India a sleeping football giant, FIFA president carried it forward saying “India is a football country now,” Both are off the mark by a long chalk.

At best these remarks are encouraging and both know even if India is nowhere near the class of some of the smaller African and Latin American countries, their market potential is enormous for international sport.

The 17th edition of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup was the most attended. What explains the turn out?  Good football attracts good crowds. Amazingly, it was the schoolchildren who dragged their parents to accompany them to the matches.

This was the 17th edition of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup and it was the most attended and to add to it a record number of goals were also scored, the highest ever. It is to the credit of the soccer-crazy fans -- for a change it has overshadowed cricket – the crowd response has been far better than the most attendance record of the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia where 1,309,929 went through the turnstiles.

Even when India were not playing, 66,684 spectators were there at Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium to watch the exciting England-Spain final, taking the total attendance at the six venues across the country to 1,347,143 -- 116,167 more than the 1,230,976 turn-out in the inaugural edition in China in 1985.

Yes, these figures will surely gladden the hearts of the organisers, but the organizational ability of the country was never in doubt with the government of the day going out of the way to make it a big success.

What explains the turn out?  Good football attracts good crowds. Amazingly, it was the schoolchildren who dragged their parents to accompany them to the matches.

England went on to win the cup for the first time and they avenged their defeat by Spain in the European Under-17 championship final by winning 5-2. More importantly, the English lads were down 0-2 and then knocked in five.

There was nothing fluky about England victory. All their goals were well struck and a couple of them would have done credit to even senior internationals.

It has to be remembered that the English and Spanish youngsters are the products of the training schools almost all the leading European clubs run. Some of them have already been short-listed for bigger things in a year or two.

As is the case with these major events, a lot of scouts from various clubs were around penciling down the promising names for recruitment. These scouts would have been very happy seeing some of the best talent available in the world today. 

The scouts would have found enough promising players who can be stars tomorrow, playing for top clubs in Europe, Latin America and Africa.

As for India, they should try and make a mark in the region first before entertaining hopes of a global reach. Where do the talented youngsters go from here? That’s the question uppermost in everyone’s mind. First of all, the 21-member squad should be nursed and cared for keeping an eye on the immediate future. 

In the euphoria of the Under-17 World Cup, people may not have noticed that the Under-16 has done well to qualify for the 2018 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-16 Championship, coming on top from a group that had Iraq, Palestine and Nepal.

India doubtless has a glorious past, of playing in the Olympics and doing well. But that was over 60 years ago. There are states and cities that boasted of a handful of Olympians and the folklore how an unassuming Syed Abdul Rahim from Hyderabad produced some wonderful footballers and that India even won the Asian Games gold in 1962.








That’s all history and romanticizing about India’s football and the players of 50s-60s is of no relevance to the modern footballer. Today the footballers are turning professionals and money attracts them to be good players.  

Most Indian coaches, with merit certificates, cite Rahim’s work for over a decade and decry hiring of overseas coaches, spending big dollars, without the results showing any marked improvement.     

Most Indian schoolboys can reel off the names with positions of players in English clubs and the two Spanish clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona and, perhaps, Bayern Munich. Ask them about Indian players they might able to mumble Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri.

After the World Cup, the youngsters are able to name the entire Indian team and that should please the officials of the All-India Football Federation (AIFF). If the enthusiasm of these youngsters can take them to the football fields in their schools or some of the academies springing up here and there the purpose of organizing the event will have served. 

AIFF chief Praful Patel says the Under-17 players will join the best Under-19 players to form an I-League team without tensions of relegation of promotion. They will be taken care of by AIFF.

India has a good bunch of teenagers and three age group teams --Under-16, Under-17 and Under-19.

In the euphoria of the Under-17 World Cup, people may not have noticed that the Under-16 has done well to qualify for the 2018 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-16 Championship, coming on top from a group that had Iraq, Palestine and Nepal.

That the AIFF cares for Indian football can be seen from the fact that the Under-17 boys literally had global exposure visiting a number of countries as part of their preparation for the big event, spending a small fortune.

Thirteen of the Under-17 squad are in the Under-19 squad, which is going to play in the 2018 AFC Under-19 qualifiers in Saudi Arabia with Yemen and Turkmenistan as the other teams in the pool. They will be striving hard to make it to the championship in Indonesia next year.

Big-hearted goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, deep defenders Sanjeev Stalin and Boris Singh, linkmen Amarjit Singh, Suresh Singh and the only goal-scorer for India in the World Cup, Jeakson Singh, are part of the squad.

For the record India lost to the US 0-3, did well against Colombia before losing 1-2 and they were mauled by Ghana 4-0.

England’s Rhian Brewster, who scored back-to-back hat-tricks against the US and Brazil, is certain to be heard of and so will be their captain Phil Foden. Former England and Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard thinks highly of the former. Abel Ruiz of Spain and Alan of Brazil are in that big league list. A big chunk of players from England, Spain and Brazil have caught the eye of the scouts and the future of most of them is bright.

Here is a great example to emulate. Most players are products of the training programmes the countries carry out whereas the AIFF could not force even major clubs to have developmental programmes and grassroots recruitment of promising youngsters.

The mushrooming football academies in the countries are turning out to be business propositions instead of concentrating on the area. What sense does it make if an academy in Punjab goes scouting for boys in the North-East when they should be looking at the talent in their own and the neighbouring states?

The glitches have to be removed before the sport is handed over to corporate houses, as AIFF is doing, to launch lucrative leagues. Yes, the country should have one major league like in all countries, but that the clubs should be made to stand on their feet by the same corporate promoters, say like the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Once that happens, at least the club football will have better days and with it the country will also prosper.




When adolescents start caring, things move in the right direction.