‘There is need for more professionalism’

SWEET SUCCESS: Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chetri celebrate with the Indian national flag after the final of the Nehru Cup on Monday.

SWEET SUCCESS: Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chetri celebrate with the Indian national flag after the final of the Nehru Cup on Monday.   | Photo Credit: — PHOTO: AP

Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chetri were the most sought-after stars in town on Tuesday. The media commitments pulled them out of the beds early.

It was worse for Subroto Paul, the star performer in India’s Nehru Cup win over Syria last night. Paul, sleepy eyed, left for the airport to catch the first flight to Kolkata to fulfil his commitments towards the Pune FC, now engaged in the IFA Shield. And it was this exacting demand of the club that caught the attention of chief coach Bob Houghton. He was least amused as he interacted with the media here.


Houghton fumed, “The IFA Shield? It’s crazy to see these players flying out to play in the IFA Shield. Are we serious? Is it a serious decision by people who run professional football?”

For three years, as Houghton pointed out, he had been trying to make people understand the importance of professional football.

“Infrastructure and domestic football count a lot. This is a controversial issue and what I am saying is a purely personal perspective. It is not possible in any other country to see State associations dictate professional decisions. Professional football here should only be run by the All India Football Federation (AIFF). The State association should only look after amateur football.”

In the presence of AIFF general secretary Alberto Colaco, Houghton elaborated further. “Clubs should become much more professional. We have been making a steady progress because the AIFF is helping us prepare professionally. This preparation is much more valuable because of the support it provides. A player goes back to his I-League Club and does not get the kind of professional support he gets with the national team. The I-League clubs don’t even have their own grounds, no physios, no trainers of the same level that the AIFF can provide.”

Houghton was optimistic of Indian football coming up in the next few years. “We have some very good youngsters but then their training process should be replicated in every I-League Club. Only then this development programme can do well. We are trying to develop good players and coaches and it would be a fantastic step forward if we can achieve that.”

Reflecting on India retaining the Nehru Cup title, Houghton observed, “This is the second most important win. The AFC one was greater because it helped us qualify for the Asian Cup. This continuation of the team’s success is important. You can see we made just one change to the starting 11 in this match. The team has worked hard and had a great preparation for this tournament."

Note of caution

Striking a note of caution, Houghton stressed, "The boys look far more confident now but the next 18 months are going to be crucial. We need to maintain our preparation of the highest level. In dynamics of football success like this matters a lot. It offers you different mental challenges under changing circumstances.”

On the gains from this win, he added, “We have played 25 international games since 2007 and lost just five. We have won 15 and that shows the commitment. Such a win allows the mental strength to gain a wider range. At this ground (Ambedkar Stadium) we can give a competitive game to any Asian team.”

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