On May 15th, 2016, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) celebrated a very successful Grassroots Football Day. A number of member associations joined in the festivities, and India was not to be left out. Over the course of the day, numerous football festivals were held across the country, and impacted well over 10,000 young children. From New Delhi to Anantapur, and Manipur to Punjab, over 100 districts celebrated the joys of grassroots football.
Signing Up for AFC Grassroots Football Day Source: ASA
Mumbai City FC joined hands with AIFF to conduct a grassroots leadership workshop from 5th to 7th February at the Vidyadhiraja School and Junior College in Bhandup, Mumbai. A total of 27 participants attended the three-day workshop with girls comprising nearly 50% of the group. The workshop, headed by chief instructor, Dinesh Nair, included both theoretical as well as practical sessions, and on the last day, the participants organised a grassroots festival.
Participants in a Theory Session Source: Mumbai City FC Facebook Page
Numerous participants were from the host school itself, and as part of the theory sessions, they learnt about grassroots philosophy, the importance of small-sided games, characteristics of age groups, fair play and racism, coordination agility and motor skills, football laws and fundamentals, as well as management and injury prevention techniques.
In 1971, the Jagatjit Cotton & Textile Football Club (JCT FC) was founded in Punjab. A professional football club, they played in the I-League and the Punjab State Super League for many years, winning numerous tournaments and glorifying the state when it came to football. Unfortunately, a lack of support for the sport led to the team being disbanded after the 2010-2011 I-League season. Despite the first team no longer playing, young talent was still being admitted into the JCT Academy – a full-fledged academy where children have access to education as well as football training. In August last year, in an attempt to revive the once glorious name of JCT, India on Track (IOT) gained ownership of the Academy in Hoshiarpur with the aim of reviving their senior football team, and also introducing foreign coaches into the Academy to boost football in the country.
IOT and Baliga Memorial Trust Conduct a Scouting Session for Children from the Mangolpuri Slums Source: IOT-Arsenal Football Page
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) U-17 team won the Subroto Cup earlier this month, and were awarded the trophy by none other than football legend, Pelé. Although AIFF had a humble beginning in 1937, the organisation has come a very long way since then. The AIFF Technical Director is former Australian football player, Scott O’Donell, and the Federation has plans to spread their wings further, and really touch the lives of youth through their Academies and training programmes. While the win is surely a feather in their cap, AIFF maintains that youth development is not at all about winning.
In 1888, India held the first ever Durand Cup. Almost every year since then, spectators have watched for free, and last year’s winners were awarded Rs. 50 lakh as prize money. Once the British left, the Indian Armed Forces took over, and they have done a great job of keeping the cup and the sport alive for over 125 years. Unfortunately, this year the Durand Cup will not be played. Ironically, while the age-old football tournament was being cancelled, the city of Kolkata was getting ready to welcome football legend Pelé back to their city after 38 long years.
The AIFF, Sports Authority of India (SAI) and School Sports Promotion Foundation (SSPF) have come together to launch a Football National Talent Search & Nurture program as India prepare to host the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2017. The football talent hunt is structured from the bottom up – starting at schools, moving up to district level, then further to the state level until, finally, the very best talents from each state compete at a national-level to earn a place on coach, Nicolai Adam’s India Under-17 squad.
The program has already kicked off in regions across the country and is open to all players born on or after 1 January, 2000. Geared to provide young footballers the opportunity to showcase their skills and impress the coaches, there is a lot riding on the success of this talent hunt. Undoubtedly, the scale of the initiative is massive and strewn with challenges, but the hope is that the federation will unearth some hidden gems along the way.
No glitz. No glamour. No film personalities (yet). Just a quiet, determined focus on football. Meet the latest entrants to the world of professional football in India – Fateh Hyderabad Associated Football Club (AFC). Slated to be part of the Second Division I-League, Fateh Hyderabad AFC is set to put Hyderabad back on the map after a long break away from professional football in the country.
However, unlike most other clubs in India, Fateh Hyderabad AFC will adopt a bottom-up approach where the majority of their investments will be plowed into creating an ecosystem that allows the sport to thrive. Led by Columbia University-educated Yogesh Maurya who is also a private equities professional, the club has its sights firmly set on the long term. Rather than a mad scramble to qualify for the First Division I-League at the very first attempt, Fateh Hyderabad will focus on youth development and developing good infrastructure for football in the city to flourish.
How many times have we heard that tiring title before? “The Sleeping Giants of World Football”. As India Coach, Stephen Constantine says in the video below:
“It doesn’t mean anything. [The ‘sleeping giant’ title] I really don’t understand. Possibly we’re not sleeping and we’re in a coma and we need to wake the hell up. And we will.”
While Constantine says that the playing surfaces have improved significantly and the players coming through to the national setup are better ‘coached’ than before, he says the one massive factor that has remained the same is the development of youth football – there is no systematic approach or framework to develop young footballers in India. Starting from grassroots football to elite youth development, there needs to be a detailed plan and system implemented so that the best talent reaches the top.
Here are Constantine’s thoughts on youth development in India today:
“[In the 10 years I’ve been away from India] The thing that hasn’t really changed much is the youth development. And we really, really got to put our money and our focus and our energy in developing the youth of India. I think we need to re-establish ourselves, regain the respect of Asia because, at the moment, we are pretty much a laughing stock. That has to change and that will change.”
When speaking about the talent pool available in India, the Coach had this to say:
“There are diamonds everywhere. You got to dig them out, polish them, cut them and then you stick them in a ring. You don’t take a diamond out of the mountain and put it in a ring.”
Here’s the FIFA exclusive video:
From this, it is clear that the only way forward for India is to invest heavily in grassroots football and youth development. Because the strength of a country’s football program is directly related to the strength of its grassroots system.
India’s Under-16 team lost 0-3 to the Iran Under-16s in their penultimate AFC U16 Championship qualifying match in Tabriz City, Iran. Coming into the match on the back of a successful Germany tour and a big win over the Bahrain U16s, the Indians had been quietly confident of giving the hosts a good fight.
The Indian colts actually began strongly as they dominated the opening ten minutes with quality possession. However, Iran scored first in the 15th minute against the run of play. Not to be deterred, the India U16s kept pouring forward but, despite their best efforts, were unable to break down the Iranian defence. Despite the pressure, it was Iran who scored again two minutes before half-time which left the Indians going into the break two goals down. It then got worse in the 57th minute when Iran scored their third goal after which both teams seemed resigned to the result.
The game ended at 0-3 in favour of Iran. The young Blue Tigers will take on the Lebanon U16s who lost 1-2 to Bahrain earlier in the day.
While the AIFF has been under fire in the past few weeks regarding the ISL and I-League mess, they are still taking positive steps in other areas – especially in regard to grassroots football in India. The governing body recently conducted a Grassroots Leaders Workshop for representatives of all I-League & 2nd Division League clubs.