Unnikrishnan lists the faults of Indian football

Indian football's lack of drive, poor infrastructure and outdated training methods have led the game to dribble aimlessly for too long, wrote M.S Unnikrishnan of Tribune India. "The best-known face of Indian football, Baichung Bhutia said the decline of the game was mainly on account of the All-India Football Federation’s failure to have the right kind of people at the helm ... Bhutia said wistfully how he longed to be part of the upcoming World Cup in Germany, though he knows fully well that it’s just wishful thinking. For, it will take India, ranked 117, several decades to break into the elite group of the best 32 teams in the world. The last Indian win was a 2-0 effort against Afghanistan in the AFC Challenge Cup at Chittagong, but were humiliated by Nepal with a 3-0 win in the quarter-final in April this year," he commented.

Unnikrishnan listed the faults of Indian football:

Neglect at the grass-roots level: No concerted, scientifically modulated training programmes for juniors. "Indian coaches are so far behind in their coaching techniques that they cut a sorry figure when pitted against reputed teams" but "Mercifully, the AIFF has appointed well-known British coach Bob Houghton as the new chief national coach and he will be assisted by two Indian coaches, mainly for grooming junior talent and strengthening the base".

National Football League: "A pointless exercise, though the league has made the AIFF coffers rich". Because NFL matches are played only at select venues from where the competing teams belong the "very idea of taking the game to all corners of the country ... has been defeated". A Second Division League was started to address this problem has "not made much success either".

Extinction of many tournament: "An insensitive AIFF couldn’t care less when tournament after tournament folded up as it was obsessed only with the NLF, mainly because money was directly coming into its pockets" such as through Zee Sports and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation sponsorships. "Most of the prestigious club tournaments have downed their shutters as it was difficult to invite top clubs and players. For, according to the present rule of the AIFF, a tournament has to be completed within 12 days, featuring only eight or ten teams, and top players attending India camps would not be released to play for their respective clubs. Only the National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy and the Federation Cup for clubs continue to hold on, weathering heavy odds."

Lack of infrastructure: The Karnataka Football Association is the only state body to have its own stadium, Kanjeevara, in Bangalore while the other state associations have just minimal infrastructure. Even the Ambedkar Stadium, which has been chosen for Asian Football Federation's Vision India pilot project in Delhi, is often let out by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi for political functions, "despite the frantic efforts of Delhi Soccer Association secretary N K Bhatia to stop the 'misuse'."

However, AIFF's first fulltime Secretary, Alberto Colaco, explained to Unnikrishnan that now the federation is making it mandatory for State associations to hold longer leagues, the impact and profile of the "game is set for a makeover". At present, only Goa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu hold longer leagues, while Punjab, Kerala, etc. restrict their leagues to a couple of weeks. He promised that the NFL would also be run in a much more professional manner in the coming years as the FIFA and the AFC are extending a helping hand to streamline the football set-up in the states.

“Our biggest problem is non-availability of grounds. But we are in the process of addressing this lacuna, Colaco said. “FIFA and AFC are trying to provide us maximum guidance and we plan to work at three levels—short term (two years), medium term (five years) and long term (10 years)—to lift the standard of Indian football. Everyone has to pitch in with honest efforts to turn the game around,” he added.

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