Best results in Indian football have come under Indian coaches, says SS Shreekumar

Veteran football expert SS Shreekumar weighs in on what needs to change in Indian football for the nation to make it big on the world stage

Another World Cup has come and gone and left Indian soccer fans pining for an Indian entry into the Numero Uno tournament of the beautiful game. The outstanding feature of the World Cup has been the success of tiny Croatia, which made the final. It is a nation that came into existence in 1991 and has a population of four million, less than that of Bengaluru. Croatia took the world by storm with an electrifying display before going down to a technically superior and more seasoned France in the final. If such a small country could go all the way in the World Cup, why does India, with a population of 1.3 billion and millions of football fans, struggle to even qualify for the World Cup?

In a chat with the MetroPlus, veteran football expert SS Shreekumar analyses the state of Indian football and suggests the way forward in the game. Shreekumar, in his long association with the game, has been a player and commentator. He later became a qualified referee for 15 years and then changed track to become a sports writer, bringing his insights on the game to fans.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

How often has India played or qualified for World Cup in the past and what has been our international record?

Well, India had entered the 1950 World Cup in Brazil but withdrew due to travel and finance problems. After qualifying rounds were introduced by FIFA, India has been participating almost regularly but has failed to make even the second round in Asian qualifying. Asia has only four slots and a possible fifth after a play-off. So 47 nations are vying for those limited slots and it is not easy for any nation. At a time when playing standards in the World Cup and the football competition of the Olympic Games was not much different, India was the first Asian nation to enter the semi-finals of the Olympic Games football in 1956 in Melbourne. In the 1960 Rome Olympics, India led by a goal against France, but the latter fought to force a 1-1 draw. India won the 1951 Asian Games gold in Delhi, the 1962 Asian Games gold in Jakarta and the bronze in the 1970 Asiad at Bangkok.

Best results in Indian football have come under Indian coaches, says SS Shreekumar

When did the slide start?

I would not call it a slide. In international football no nation, not even five-time World Cup winners Brazil or four-time winners Germany and Italy, can remain at the top for long. You need to have a programme that does not affect your standing much. That has been lacking in Indian football.

What do you think of the professional league in the country?

A nation can prosper if it strengthens its traditions. The more you weaken it, the more you suffer. You have to make use of your strengths to your advantage and not follow what others do. Every nation has a system which is club-based or region-based. India has the advantage of having both. Club culture is strong in certain parts. Regional culture is all around the country. Tournaments like the Durand Cup (one of the oldest in the world), IFA Shield, Rovers Cup, Stafford Cup, Federation Cup for clubs and Santosh Trophy, Dr B C Roy Trophy for state senior and junior sides. You must make the Santosh Trophy the professional region-based National League (as in the USA or Australia). Every state can get a sponsor for the state team. Each and every state in the country will participate unlike in the I-League where representation is limited to some cities or states. You can get quality only from quantity. This way the national pool gets bigger and better and club football can go on as before. Only then will Indian football prosper.

Your opinion on infrastructure?

All state associations are dependent on government-built stadia and no club in India has a stadium of its own. The concept of home and away is only in name. Not a single club, even clubs like Mohun Bagan or East Bengal, have anything of their own.

What needs to be done to raise our standard?

There is no magic wand. Hard work coupled with planning and pursuit of set goals can improve standards. Short-term and long-term goals must be set and targets achieved. Only then can we progress. China planned to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in a systematic manner from 1997 itself and did qualify. We must also have such targets.

Do foreign coaches help ?

The best results in Indian football have come under Indian coaches like Rahim, Nayeemuddin and Sukhvinder Singh. Foreign coaches do help but the language barrier negates the purpose. You can always send our own coaches to foreign countries and improve their knowledge and ability to serve the national team better.\

Best results in Indian football have come under Indian coaches, says SS Shreekumar

How do you bring in more sponsors to the game ?

Sponsors are attracted by success. If the national team does well, they will queue up. Also, the federation must enter into a partnership in progress with long term goals in mind. As long as they can get mileage, sponsors will come but only on a limited basis.

Can we produce world class players in near future?

Of course we can. But you need to play against better teams for such players to emerge. There is no point in playing against South Asian nations. Our players are far superior. You must pit them against South Korea, Japan, whom we often beat in the past, West Asian nations, and so on.

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Printable version | Mar 25, 2020 4:30:14 AM |

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