Indian football – such a forgotten giant (Part 1)

If the future of Indian football lies on the feet of the prodigies, then the prodigies are dreaming on the foreign turf, not in their homeland. Problems inherent in the past four decades have dragged a nation from 149 to 209 on FIFA’s rankings, prompting FIFA President Sepp Blatter to call Indian football a “sleeping giant”.

However, the Indian Football Federation (AIFF) has just appointed Dutch expert Robert Baan as their first technical director, a glimmer of the ability to awaken football potential in the country 1, 2 billion people.

World Cup goals

It is still too early to talk about, but Baan believes that with the continued development of young training institutions, India may be ready to participate in the 2022 World Cup, “or more realistic, 2026 or 2030”. “It will take more than 10 years for Indian players to reach the level of Japan and South Korea,” Baan proposed the roadmap.

AIFF has opened football academies across the country, free for students, to teach culture along with football training. AIFF’s first academy was opened in Navi, Mumbai in May 2012, the second was in September 2012, the latest was a student in Goa and a fourth school was nearing completion in Bangalore.

“I think this is the first positive step that Indian football and AIFF have taken in 30 years,” said Sunando Dhar, CEO of IIFF’s I-League. Until the 1970s, India, despite its love for cricket, remained one of the strongest teams in Asia.

The Indian national team was invited to FIFA to participate in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil (at that time there was no qualifying). However, India was unable to go to Brazil. According to football historian Gautam Roy, the train trip was too expensive and the players could not meet the mandatory requirement of wearing shoes to play football, as they used to play only barefoot.

Despite high hopes, Dhar knew he needed to be cautious: “India lacks a passion for sport and is not really a country of sport.” Indeed, India has seldom made an impression in the Olympics and the most popular mass sport, in general, is still cricket. But Indian national football team captain Sunil Chhetri said that it was hard because the hard work was worth doing.