India will remain a football laggard until the “zero infrastructure” problem is addressed by the authorities, according to National coach Bob Houghton, who feels the country’s participation in Asian Cup after 27 years will help to change things.
Houghton lamented that things proceed in the country at a slow pace and there was no result of economic growth in football infrastructure.
“You are talking about a country that has zero football infrastructure. We have, I think, one stadium in the whole of the country that meets the criteria to host a World Cup qualifier and that’s in Chennai, where there is no football and it’s an athletics stadium,” Houghton said.
“We have no training facilities — and I mean that — which is why when we get the national team together we have to go outside the country to find somewhere to train. If you have no infrastructure then it’s almost impossible to organise a league because there are no grounds to play the matches.
“Our matches kick off at 3 o’ clock in the afternoon and are played on surfaces that no self—respecting top player would play on and in 35 degrees of heat at least. Therefore, the games are very slow and maybe players run three or four kms compared with the 10 or 11 you’ve got to do when you come to Asian Cup,” Houghton told the official AFC website.
“The AFC President came to India three years ago and said India is 100 years behind and then he came last year and said nothing has changed. I don’t know how long or how many times people have got to say that to get the authorities to come to grips with it but it’s not being done,” he said.
The Englishman who took charge in mid 2006, however, is confident that football landscape in India is set to change after the Asian Cup participation, the first time after 1984.
“I think there is a determination now in the country, from the AFC, from FIFA that Indian football needs to move on.
I don’t think people will throw their hands in the air and give up. I think people will do the opposite and people will sit down and focus on what is fundamentally wrong with the game in India and how do we change it.
“I genuinely believe that being in the Asian Cup will move everything on,” he said.
Houghton said the first step to lift Indian football is to address the acute lack of infrastructure and other things can wait.
“The first step has got to be infrastructure. The fact we haven’t got any good development programmes or coach education programmes can be changed, you can force clubs to start working with under 19s, under 17s and under 14s. That just needs the political will to start it.
“But you can’t build infrastructure overnight, it takes a definite commitment. We have had some serious talks about it while we have been in Doha but unless they move on, the game won’t move forward,” said Houghton.
Houghton’s previous work as coach of China often leads to comparisons being made between the state of football in the two countries given the similar levels of economic growth within the two burgeoning powers.
But the 63—year—old Englishman said while China has state—of—the—art infrastructure, India’s economic growth has not translated in building football infrastructure.
“People consistently make the economic comparisons because there has been double—digit growth in both countries for several years but if you’re in China you can believe it because you can see the infrastructure that is evidence of that.
“But in India, in football terms, there has been absolutely no result of economic growth, no stadiums built or any infrastructure in the sport. There can be no comparison.
Even at grassroots level, the comparison can’t be made. China is a light year ahead of India,” Houghton said.
“So Denmark can qualify for the World Cup with three million people, Saudi Arabia can qualify for four straight World Cups but that’s not the issue. The issue is what you are doing with the players you have got,” he said.