Paul Breitner, legendary German World Cup winner, recently spoke about how India could become a powerful footballing country in a couple of decades. While people may have scoffed or laughed at him, claiming that India’s forte is cricket or hockey, it’s important to remember that football is going through quite a transition in the country. Today’s youth watch the Premier League and Champions League like it’s going out of style, and the ISL has gripped audiences of all ages. So, maybe there is a bit of truth in the ex-German footballer’s prediction.
Doing his bit is Indian football captain, Sunil Chhetri, who is working on developing the sport in the country. One of only 3 footballers from the subcontinent to play abroad, Chhetri is sure to give the youth some valuable input on what they can do to become better and play better. His stint at Sporting Clube de Portugal (better known as Sporting Lisbon) in 2012 gave a ray of hope to aspiring footballers in India, letting them know that one day they too can play in the big leagues. Although Chhetri did not spend a lot of time with the Primeira Liga team, he’s partnered with them again to do something far more interesting.
The national captain has been named brand ambassador of an initiative called DreamChasers, which has him going on a nation-wide hunt to find 15 talented youngsters between the ages of 8 and 14. After 15 days of scouting across 9 cities, the selected youth will be shifted to the Dr. Cyrus Poonawala International School in Kolhapur, where they will train under top-class coaches and technical experts from Sporting Lisbon.
The 15 young footballers will initially participate in a 14-day sponsored training camp before being inducted into a special 5-year training programme. While at school in Kolhapur, the program will take care of the children’s football training, education, boarding and lodging. The young footballers will train at the school for 10 months every year, and then enjoy a month of free training every year at Sporting Lisbon where legendary footballers, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo, came through the youth system.
Talking about the scouting, the Mumbai City FC & Bengaluru FC player said he would actively be involved in everything going on at the school. He would be a part of all major decisions, and ensure that the kids get the best possible training and everything needed along the way. Talking about why such a move was necessary, Chhetri spoke about what he learned while training in Lisbon.
“It was a great team, but the guys who played there were 17, 18 and 19 years of age, and I was 26.”
Aware of the fact that scouting for young talent is key to international success, Chhetri is hoping to encourage youth to play football from a young age, giving them a chance to play professionally by the time they are 17. This small change is what he thinks will change the face of the sport in the country.
He says we don’t need any big or mighty steps to improve football in India, all we need is normal. Abroad, it is normal for young children to train, and eat food that is prepared specially for them with their nutrition in mind. In India, children generally eat whatever the elders in the house eat. This isn’t ideal, and it doesn’t keep the child’s best interests in mind. He also stressed the importance of regular exercise, and having a proper schedule.
“In Portugal, kids as young as eight and nine know what and when they are supposed to eat. They knew what exercises to do before and after practice. They have a set timetable. They do everyday things with sincerity. More importantly, they stay faithful to that regimen. Also, they train throughout the week and play matches in the weekend. That’s what I mean when I say normal. That’s the real reason why they are so successful.”
Proforce’s DreamChaser’s scouting programme starts on April 9th, 2016 and Chhetri will visit Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Kolhapur, Baroda, Gandhinagar, Kerala, Kolkata and Guwahati to scout talented youngsters. While this is the first year of the programme, Proforce’s CEO and co-founder, Captain Ameya Kocharekar, mentioned that they’re looking at opening the second year of the programme to both girls and boys. Early scouting is definitely something that can help football in the country, and we’re sure this great new initiative by Proforma and Sporting Lisbon will really help football in the country.
Update: Here’s a short 4-minute video about the Dreamchasers program.