A case for football

Amidst the euphoria of India becoming the No 1 Test Playing nation, it is improbable that anyone would have paid attention to an obscure football title won by India.  India beating Maldives 3-1 in a Penalty shootout in the finals of SAFF Cup would not cause any tremors in the football world.

I have often wondered as to why India has such a pathetic record in football. We are languishing in 130s in FIFA ranking in football while in case of hockey we have gone progressively worser since the Moscow Gold in 1980.

One of the reasons for cricket’s popularity, I guess, is the low investment it requires to take up to the game. A ball of cloth rug and cotton could become the ball, few bricks could be the stumps and  a casurina stick be the bat.  The rules of the game can be as flexible as possible.  So many of us have played in the “leg-side” only grounds or using the system of “granted runs” if ever the ball would get into a thorny bush or declaring the batsman out for hitting the ball into the precincts of an unfriendly home.

Hockey requires some investment, if not exactly a vampire brand hockey stick it requires “some stick”. Compared to Hockey, Football does not require much investment except a decent ball. Even in the Olympics some players played barefoot.

India’s best performance in an international event has been the Rome Olympics in 1960 when Indian finished 4th in their group.

So what is ailing Indian Football ?

It is easy to pass the buck to cricket’s popularity which is true to certain extent but everything cannot be ascribed just to the popularity of football. A country of a billion, I am sure cannot be held hostage by cricket at all times.

We do have pockets in India where soccer is more popular than cricket, Kerala, Bengal and Goa for example.  But even then we are nowhere near even the Asian Standards. We have not produced players of international quality except for Baichung Bhutia or I M Vijayan.

For too long Indian Football remained chained to the Kolkatta clubs – Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohd Sporting. Their hold was broken by the Goan clubs especially Churchill Brothers which saw the emergence of Goa as a football powerhouse.

We started to import players mostly from the African Continent to India which did not add significantly to the “quality” of football. These Africans were natural athletes and hence could outrun and outlast the Indian players. And that’s about it. Cheema Okerie perhaps was an exception.

It is absolutely shameful that a country like India which is host to the world’s oldest football tournament, The Durand Cup is not even a force to reckon with in Asia.

The case of Japan was no different about a decade ago. Japan was a non-entity in Football and this hurt the Japanese pride. They quickly put together a great league and signed several leading players of that time, among them was Romario for their clubs. And the rest as I say is history.

Japan may not have exactly set the football world on fire but has acquitted itself much better. Football still has 2 prominent styles the European and The Latin American.  And 80% of football’s greatest players come from these 2 regions.

Football in India can take a leaf or two from Tennis.  In Tennis India was yet again a non-starter despite Ramanathan Krishnan, his son Ramesh Krishnan and the Amritraj brothers. Amritraj has some creditable wins under his belt including scalping Jimmy Connors and Mats Wilander. Even without any superstars, India has reached Davis Cup finals about 3 times.

Amritraj saw the potential for tennis in India and created the BAT – Brittania Amritraj Tennis – Academy which gave us Leander Paes.  Leander’s success rubbed off and then came Mahesh Bhupathi. Between them we have over 10 Grandslam doubles and mixed-doubles titles.

Agreed that india still has not produced a champion tennis player capable of winning a major singles title but we have earned “some respect” in the Tennis circuit thanks to the exploits of Leander, Mahesh, Sania and recently Somdev.

The problem of football is administrative. For long it had remained the personal fiefdom of politicians, prominent among them being Priyaranjan Dasmunshi who I think was quite clueless about running football.

The ONGC-I league has generated some enthusiasm for football lovers in India but that is just a small step. We need to create a system for football in schools and have to completely revamp the infrastructure. The football grounds in India resemble the muddy ‘Akahada’ more than anything else.

Here is where I think the corporates can come to help. Cricket in my view is over-sponsored and the cricketers over-paid. It is time that corporates do their bit for other sports which considering the exceptional lop-sided situation in india would tantamount to charity.

We need to be believe that we can produce a world-class football team in India and start right away for achieving the goal over the next decade.

It would be a crying shame if India which is home to a  beautiful culture cannot incubate and develop the ‘beautiful game’

We have messed up enough and it is high time we start discovering ‘Messi’s in our own backyard.

About hariharanbond
I am who I am !

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