Tuesday was a big day for Indian football. We had a game against Iran, Asia’s bestside ranked 40th in the world. Expectations were virtually non-existent. The result was an unsurprising 3-0 loss for India, a somewhat low score thanks to an off-pace Iran side and India’s defense parking the bus. The result was unsurprising but should serve as a wake-up call for the country.
We have emphatically lost every match in the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers, the most disgraceful being the 1-0 loss to Guam, a country with a population less than 2% of Delhi’s. This begs the question, what should be done to make India competitive?
According to coach Stephen Constantine, India should have a solitary football league aligned with FIFA’s calendar. At the moment we have the ISL (Indian Super League) from October to December and the I-league from January to May. This means when India plays in the qualifiers, the players are rusty and haven’t kicked a ball in 3 months. No wonder we never win.
In the short term, India can improve by allowing Indian-origin footballers to represent the country, which for some reason the AIFF (All India Football Federation) prohibits.This is an illogical policy. Teams like France and Germany are exceptional thanks to this policy. Mesut Ozil plays for Germany despite being born in Turkey. Belgium star Adnan Januzaj could have played for England, Albania or Kosovo due to the heritage of his parents. Similarly, India could have played talented youngsters like Harmeet Singh of Norway and Luciano Narsingh of Netherlands. Yet this is impossible due to the absurdly rigid AIFF.
We need to adapt the standards in other countries to make our team competent and competitive.
In the long term, we need to build football from a grassroot level. This means opening youth academies, recruiting coaches, sending players to international youth tournaments and ensuring they are physically and mentally fit to play in the top leagues of Europe (At the moment, the only player plying his trade in Europe is goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu). The players should all be taught the same formation at all youth levels so they can effortlessly adjust to playing for the national team.
Belgium has benefitted from this methodology over the last fifteen years, seen by their squad of extraordinary players like Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku to name a few. This strategy will reap benefits over the next decade.
Indian football is at an all-time low. The nation must change fast to protect the world’s most popular sport.