Ten under-16 Indian footballers have been selected by German veteran Paul Breitner to represent India at the FC Bayern Youth Cup finals in Munich

When you watch 14-year-old Aniket Jadhav play football, it’s tough to miss the ease with which he dribbles past defenders. It’s an ability that would hold any striker in good stead. Only that he isn’t one. He’s a natural left-back, playing as a forward only because his coach decided to place him there.

Not that that it mattered to Aniket. He pounced on the opportunity by topping the goal-scoring charts.

While the teenager made a mockery of the challenges he faced, on the sidelines sat a former German footballer who assessed every move of his. Perhaps, it helped that Aniket didn’t completely understand the significance of being examined by that 62-year-old man. That old man was a former World Cup winner with West Germany, Paul Breitner.

Earlier this month, ten under-16 Indian footballers were selected by Breitner to represent India at the FC Bayern Youth Cup finals in Munich. Aniket, son of a rickshaw-puller, will be joined by five of his clubmates from Pune FC, four footballers from Bangalore FC and goalkeeper Shivam Sarkar from Hindustan FC.

The tournament, organised by Adidas, witnessed participation from other clubs like Shillong Lajong, Kenkre, etc. as well, in addition to a few elite Delhi schools.

Pune claimed the winner’s trophy but every footballer was richer for the experience. The media was not left behind either. A 30-minute match saw the Breitner-led team thrash the media side 6-1 in an eight-a-side contest on a shortened pitch at the Ambedkar Stadium. It was a sobering experience for unfit and leaden-footed scribes, including the writer.

Perhaps, a match against any of the participating sides in the tournament would have yielded a worse result for the media. Hence, backed by good reason, they stuck to playing each other under Breitner’s watchful gaze.

Indian football has been dogged by “age fraud” in the past but, thankfully, none of the teams resorted to fielding over-aged players. Though the organisers didn’t possess any mechanism to verify age, Adidas Brand Director of India Tushar Goculdas claimed that the methods adopted by participating teams were trustworthy.

Over the past decade, many European clubs have visited India with the intention of expanding their business operations. However, rarely has any club aimed to provide a strong base for football development in the country. Funding for grassroots development programmes remains unsatisfactory too.

Yet, the successful conduct of the FC Bayern Youth Cup allows young Indian footballers to live a dream. For a player like Aniket, an experience of competing in a high-quality tournament outside India seldom arrives. The chances of him playing at the Allianz Arena in Munich were even lower, before he represented Pune in this tournament.

However, the experience of playing in Munich alone doesn’t develop a player. More needs to be done before any of the chosen ten become finished products. Also, a greater talent pool could have been created had the tournament been more inclusive at school level.

But, come May, those issues will drift into the background. For the Indian team in Munich, there will be a greater issue at hand.