A former international and Indian Bank player Sabir Pasha has played some of the finest football in his times and that is not too far back.
Known for striking power and ability to provide crucial passes, Sabir had been instrumental in India winning the SAFF championship twice in the past, in Goa and in Nepal.
The other day, as he watched India lose to Afghanistan in the SAFF final in Nepal, Sabir was in dismay.
“Where are our strikers?” he wondered even as he admitted that the standards of our neighbours had certainly gone up where “nothing much has happened to Indian football.”
For one, who was the hero of India’s win in the SAF Games held here in 1995, Sabir appeared worried that the national league was actually doing little to shape Indian football.
“We have foreign players in key positions and certainly in the striking zones, so how do you develop the skills of Indian players?” he asked.
Over the years the Indian team had capable duos who made it difficult for an opposition to plan ‘markings’.
For instance, he said, during the period when I. M. Vijayan and Baichung Bhutia played, the two complemented so well that they often made things happen.
If they still faced tight defence then there was Jo Paul Ancheri to play an effective striker.
“I have also chipped in when situation demanded,” he said, while underscoring the resources available then.
In Nepal, Sunil Chhetri appeared to lack a good partner and often he was tightly marked that he could not be effective and others could not alternate, observed Sabir.
Striking a balance
A national youth coach, Sabir said unless an effort was made to strike a balance in the composition of the League teams, with an emphasis on providing opportunities for Indians to man key positions, the national league may provide sparkle but fail to provide a salutary effect to the national squad.
Sabir also pointed out to the lack of experience in most players in the Indian team.
“Most of them need to play more often in the national squad to get a grip of the demands at this high level of competition,” he said.