According to Sol Campbell, India is 50 to 100 years behind the top countries in terms of football development and should encourage their indigenous style of play to evolve.
“Many other countries have advanced India by 50-100 years. You must state what we must do to catch up. However, you are on the right track. “Having a World Cup for the U-17s here offers you exposure,” said the former England defender, who is now a member of Fifa’s technical study group.
When a big international football tournament takes place, football enthusiasts work into the wee hours of the morning to watch telecasts of live matches, which are usually held late at night due to the time zones of most football-playing nations.
Football clubs such as Real Madrid and Chelsea also have a large fanbase. Despite the Indian football team’s terrible performance on the international stage.
It is now ranked 97th among the top 100 teams by FIFA, which organises the Football World Cup every four years. It had fallen to 173rd place around three years ago, but 97th place is hardly comfort for a country of a billion people.
It’s a far way from its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was a dominant Asian team competing in Olympics and other international events.
India’s record in football globally
Some may be surprised to learn that India advanced to the finals of the 1950 Olympics in football! This happened by accident. The other teams in the group assumed India had withdrawn from the Olympics for whatever reason, and the Indian team qualified for the finals automatically.
It, too, withdrew from the Olympics, and the reason for this is still up for debate. It was widely assumed that Indian football players lacked basic equipment, particularly football shoes.
It was also mentioned that they like to play barefoot, but the Olympics organisation banned this. Others claim that the Indian government has refused to sponsor the national squad financially.
Regardless of the likelihood of a historic Olympic final, the truth remains that the national team won multiple awards and significant Asian tournaments during Indian football’s Golden Age.
It won the gold medal at the Asian Games twice, in 1951 and 1962. In 1959 and 1964, it finished second in the Merdeka football competition, as well as the Asia Cup. After defeating several other national teams, India finished fourth in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and became the first Asian nation to reach the Olympic football semi-final.
India competed in the Olympics with distinction from 1948 to 1960, when it qualified for the last time. It has never qualified for the World Cup finals, and it hasn’t even made it to the Asia Cup finals since 1984. The last time an Indian football team competed in the Asian Games quarter finals was in Delhi in 1982.
The names of famous players from that era are still remembered by old timers. These include Chuni Goswami, Jarnail Singh, P.K. Banerjee, T. Balaram, Sudhir Karmakar, Peter Thangaraj, Altaf Ahmed and Yusuf Khan, Prasun Banerjee and Atanu Bhattacharya. Jarnail Singh even captained the Asian All Stars XI. Besides him three other Indian players, Thangaraj, Altaf Ahmed and Yusuf Khan, figured in the Asian All Masters XI.
Despite their aptitude and ability, none of them chose to pursue a professional career or play for clubs in other countries. Despite receiving offers to play for overseas clubs, they preferred stable government and public sector positions. Baichung Bhutia, the first Indian player, chose to play in the professional league in England in 1999.
So, what went wrong with Indian football following the golden era, despite the country’s sustained enthusiasm for the sport? Evidently, a combination of factors contributed to its virtual extinction on a global scale.
What went wrong with the development of football in India?
One of the most crucial things that has led to the current deplorable state of affairs is the influx of politicians and bureaucrats. Political leaders with little expertise or enthusiasm in the game ‘captured’ major positions in Associations in the decades following independence. Their primary goal was to develop clout and go on overseas trips allegedly to attend meetings.
It was also profitable for bureaucrats to meddle in the operations of national and state organisations. It resulted in nepotism, favouritism, political intervention, and a decreased emphasis on player development and conditioning. As more such worthy individuals aspired to take charge, associations began to splinter.
Every state had at least two organisations claiming to represent it. Instead of focusing on the players and the game, they became hotbeds of political intrigue and deception. For a long time, the little Union Territory of Chandigarh, for example, had three factions.
The sport’s demise was caused by the government’s refusal to provide direction to the sport or to limit the involvement of politicians and bureaucrats. It made almost little attempt to develop young players or recruit top international coaches to train the Indian team.
Similarly, despite a history dating back to 1888, when the Durand Cup football event was originally launched by the British at Annandale Grounds in Shimla, the Raj’s former summer capital, the government did not support clubs and failed to organise regular national level tournaments.
In reality, the number of domestic competitions has dropped dramatically. During the 1960s and 1970s, over 125 domestic tournaments were staged, but that number has now dropped to less than a hundred. Due to a shortage of money and sponsors, major competitions such as the Federation Cup and the Nehru Cup have had to be dropped and added.
Despite this, football continues to be the most popular sport after cricket. In states like West Bengal, Kerala, Goa, and the northeast, it has a large following. Some television stations broadcast FIFA World Cup coverage in Bengali and other regional languages.
Football’s popularity has declined in exact proportion to cricket’s ascension as the most popular sport. People were drawn to cricket in part because of a succession of football setbacks, and in part because of the increasingly better standards and successes in cricket. Cricket’s sophisticated marketing deserves credit as well. Cricket’s popularity grew due to India’s victories over western countries, particularly the United Kingdom.
Can India continue lagging in football?
The All India Football Federation selected the 54-year-old Croat, who played in the Premier League with West Ham and Derby, in 2019. (AIFF).
However, the governing body is in turmoil and is being controlled by administrators after former chairman Praful Patel lingered in office after his term expired without holding new elections, which the courts determined were unlawful.
The management issues exacerbated a long-standing lack of football growth, which has put India “eight to ten years behind the top-eight Asian countries,” according to Stimac.
“Let’s get up and figure out how we’re going to get there,” the former defender told reporters on Wednesday.
“I’m not talking about my job; I’m just talking about timing; is anyone normal when something like this happens at such a crucial time?”
Stimac stated that he was coaching the team for “less than my asking price” and that he would only extend his contract beyond September if certain conditions were met.
One of them is a revamp of the domestic I-League, with a focus on the development of homegrown talent.
“If we want to move forward, we need to eliminate foreigners entirely from the I-League,” he stated.
“Some things will have to radically change.
Nearly 90 footballers have represented India since the beginning of 2015. Scouts have identified talent from practically every area of the country, from Mizoram to Mumbai, Kerala to Kolkata. However, present and former coaches have stated that these players are not good enough to elevate the national team’s standard.
Little else explains the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) frantic and repeated appeals to the Indian government to enable Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) to play for the national squad. In an interview with the AIFF on Friday, chief coach Igor Stimac made the most recent, albeit oblique, request.
“Sometimes I get the idea that we have too much opinion of ourselves when it comes to opponents like Afghanistan or Bangladesh,” Stimac remarked of the lacklustre performances against Afghanistan and Bangladesh in the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup joint qualifiers. I’d like to remind you that Afghanistan allows foreign players to play for the national team.
“They now have 13 players from European leagues on the team.” In Germany, Poland, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden, they are competing. They also have two players in Australian teams and one in the top tier in the United States.”
The Croat was commentating during India’s 6-0 friendly loss to the United Arab Emirates on March 29. Yan Dhanda, an Indian-origin attacking midfielder who played youth football for Liverpool and currently plays for Swansea, tweeted his ‘disappointment’ over the loss and praised Stimac for ‘giving young players opportunities.’
Some quickly realised the connection, and there is now a fresh drive to incorporate OCI players in the Indian team.
India’s policy on recruiting players overseas
This isn’t the first time Stimac has made this request, nor is it his first try. During his first term as an Indian coach, from 2002 to 2005, Englishman Stephen Constantine was one of the first to bring up the subject. Later that decade, his compatriot Bob Houghton tried. During his brief tenure, Dutchman Wim Koevermans fought for it, and Constantine lobbied tirelessly in his second appointment, which began in 2015.
Following a nudge from Stimac, top AIFF executives met with the sports ministry days before the lockdown was imposed in March 2020 to discuss the subject. The AIFF presented a list of roughly 30 Indian-origin players who could be considered for the national squad at that meeting.
One of the most contentious issues in Indian sport in the last decade has been the question of OCI players. Only Indian citizens will be permitted to represent the country in international tournaments, according to a regulation established by the Sports Ministry under MS Gill in December 2008.
This rendered PIO and OCI card holders unable to represent India unless they relinquished their foreign citizenship and filed for an Indian passport — dual citizenship is illegal in India. Allowing Indian-origin overseas athletes to compete for India has been argued by the government as hurting the chances of home-grown athletes.
Despite the presence of well-known clubs like as Mohan Bagan, Dempo, East Bengal, and Salgaokar, no major effort was made to market the game in the same way that the Indian Premier League (IPL) transformed cricket.
But all is not lost, and despite India’s absence, the continuous passion for football, as seen during international matches, may be revived. In reality, some efforts are already underway and yielding results.
For example, the Chandigarh Football Academy, which was founded in 2000 by then-Punjab Governor and UT Administrator Gen JFR Jacob, is doing extremely well. Over 45 of its students have represented India at international level, with seven of the team’s under-19 players hailing from the Academy. Wards.
Many of them hail from the northeastern United States, West Bengal, and Goa. There are also NRI-founded academies and clubs like Mahilpur Football Club and Minerva Football Club. Many more of these academies are required to help restore the game’s glory.
It should help bring audiences back to the stadiums, and no future Indian captain will have to make the same pitch for attendance at football matches as Sunil Chhetri did lately. “Come to the stadium, do it (criticism) on our faces, scream at us, shout at us, abuse us, who knows one day we might change you guys, you might start rooting for us,” he said recently.
Sixteen years, the length of time since the proposition was initially made, is plenty of time to concentrate on grassroots and develop talent. However, the AIFF and clubs, who are jointly responsible for this, have fallen short. Today, only a few clubs and academies participate in youth development, an unglamorous undertaking that necessitates significant cash, takes several years to yield benefits, and necessitates patience.
Only a few teams from the North East, the Minerva Academy in Chandigarh, and the AIFF’s academies are regularly producing players at the moment.