Posted On: 23rd October , 2017
It’s an administrative triumph that India is hosting the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. It will be an inspiration for the youth and children to adopt and excel in the most popular sport of the world. This event is the first step in the right direction to realise India’s immense potential in the sport — but there’s a long way to go.
All the boys who are participating in the tournament are born in this century and are ambitious, motivated and have an attitude to excel. Indian boys are not an exception. The Indian team has done reasonably well, but not well enough as a host country is expected to do. I have come across some articles that describe the Indian team as a “sleeping giant”. There is nothing to be derived from praising mediocrity.
To appreciate a problem is the most fundamental step towards solving it. There are some pertinent questions: Why has India failed to realise its enormous potential despite having such a huge reservoir of talent? Why do we have to be satisfied with descriptions that seem more of a consolation, like a “sleeping giant”? It’s time the sleeping giant wakes up and performs on the football pitch and competes amongst the best. After all, producing champions is not rocket science — what is required is a planned, concerted effort.
There are two distinct areas where we need to work. Firstly, at the grassroots to find and hone the talent. Secondly, providing training and coaching to convert this talent into a cadre of world-class players. It’s not a daunting task or an impractical idea — the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to make India a sporting superpower.
Many countries have done it in their own ways. Let me talk about the German model. I was in Europe earlier this year and learned about how Germany improved their performance in just over a decade. They had to face an embarrassment in Euro-2000 and the administrators of the sport were determined not to let this happen again.
They started at the grassroots. Germany already had the necessary infrastructure; they upgraded it and increased the depth of coaching resources. Germany has 28,400 coaches with the B licence, 5,500 with A licence and 1,070 with the pro licence — the highest qualification.
While they honed skills, they also worked on the psychology of the players. Winning, as they say, is a habit, but a defeatist attitude could also become a habit. Winning is also a philosophy of life. The German coaches focused on developing the right attitude; what they call it is “fluid formations”, stressing on the need of nimbleness, dexterity and thinking players — instead of raw physical strength — who can work as a team. They weren’t interested in creating superstars, but a cohesive team They weren’t interested in creating superstars, but a cohesive team. Nimbleness and not the strength was the new mantra that did wonders.
We organise various football camps in remote parts of the country and also a school football league (SSFL) every year where more than 60,000 children from Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Gujarat compete in about 2,000 matches.
I see nimbleness is our strength and what is required is proper training to develop technical skills and tactical knowledge that can easily convert them into world-class players.
What we are doing in India is not very different from what Germany has been doing for the past decade to promote football in their country. Germany introduced a talent development programme in 2003 to identify promising youngsters, mostly aged 8 to 14 years. They are a country of just 80 million compared to India’s 1.25 billion. Just by renewed focus on the youngsters made them World champions within 10 years.
Not all the players will make it to the national side but there are professional clubs and junior teams — and there’s a lot of money to be made. So, there’s sufficient incentive. They have inculcated a sporting culture which has become a way of life.
In Europe there’s a long-held practice to get players on payment of a hefty amount of money from African, Brazil or Argentina. But Germany, thanks to the Freiburg facility, has realised it’s cheaper to train one’s own players. They now have plenty of them, which has created a healthy competition for excellence and the result is for everyone to see. Germany won the last World Cup in 2014, decimating Brazil 7-1.
The German experience has a lesson for India. We need a dedicated academy that will work on select few youngsters and churn out world class players on an annual basis. We need our own Freiburg kind of an academy.
Winning is a habit — and complacency a disease.
(A comprehensive article by Mr Siddhartha Upadhyay, member of the Governing Body of the Sports Authority of India and Founder of STAIRS, an organisation dedicated to the upliftment of sports. This article was originally published in IANS and featured in ET sites.)