For five young footballers, it was the most glorious moment of their budding careers. Manosh Dawn, Arjun Dutt, Abhijit Sarkar, Sourabh Roy and Abhay Gujral were picked by Coca Cola and sent to the Brazil Football Academy for a week’s training last year.
Meeting the current stars, Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chetri, and spending time with them was another “huge motivational” boost for these stars of the future.
Coca Cola to sponsor
The five youngsters were felicitated at a function here to mark the company’s tie-up with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and sponsor the Mir Iqbal Hussain Trophy for the National under-16 championship. The trophy will be played in over 400 districts and will involve more than 6000 young players.
At the end of the National championship, 16 players will be identified to participate in an international camp to be organised during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. During the Nationals, the AIFF talent spotters will shortlist 40 promising footballers who will be coached and groomed to be part of the national team.
The Coca Cola concept is a grassroot level football initiative to discover budding talent and prepare the India (under-16) team for the international camp in 2010. It is open to footballers in the age group of 12 to 15.
Chief National coach Bob Houghton was all praise for the concept. “The only vehicle that will move Indian football forward is the national team and that can happen only through a quality supply of players. The National development programme in Goa for under-16 and 19 has shown massive improvement.
“The main concern of the technical director (of the AIFF) was we were not getting the best under-16 players because the boys were from too few states. Now they will be getting the best players because this programme offers a much broader base for national representation,” he added.
Bhutia welcomed the venture. “I thank Coca Cola for this. It is a great gesture. Things were different in terms of facilities and infrastructure when I was playing. The most important thing is that a player will get to play at least five matches.
“Imagine travelling from Sikkim or Manipur to Kerala and losing the first match. It used to be heartbreaking. I am sure talent will now be spotted after four to five matches. It is an investment that will not go waste,” Bhutia added.