AIFF Technical chief: Not been a smooth ride

After the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Academy’s triumph in the Subroto Cup, Technical Director Scott O’Donell looked back at how it all began, how the concept of AIFF Academies was launched and the journey so far.

Scott O'Donell took over the role of AIFF Technical Director in 2011.

After the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Academy’s triumph in the Subroto Cup, Technical Director Scott O’Donell looked back at how it all began, how the concept of AIFF Academies was launched and the journey so far.

“It hasn’t always been easy but we (AIFF) have done what we have been able to do within our limited resources,” said O’Donell. “I was at an AFC Youth Conference this week, and while we are not up there with the likes of Japan or, Korea, I think we can be proud of what we have done in terms of our Residential Academies.”

O’Donell commended the efforts of all the personnel involved and spoke about how the seeds of this idea were first sown. “There are not many Countries in Asia who have Residential Academies for their respective Youth Teams like we do. It has been a Team effort, starting from Mr. Praful Patel to Mr. Kushal Das and down to our staff at the Academy.”

O’Donell continued, “It all started when I received an E-mail from Jean-Michel Benezet, the then FIFA Technical Director. He asked me if I was interested in going to India to help set up an Academy Programme. I jumped at the chance. And with FIFA’s support, I moved to India to work with Kushal (Das) and Rob Baan to set up the Academies.”

The first AIFF Academy was set up in Mumbai, at Father Agnel School in Vashi. Since then, Kolkata and Bangalore have also got Academies while Goa is thriving with two.

O’Donell said that this was an opportunity for the young players to live and breathe football on a full-time basis. He added that the AIFF has provided coaching, board and accommodation as well as education for all of the players.

The Technical Director also singled out the opportunities provided for young coaches, physios and team managers to be employed full-time in Indian football.

But the journey so far has been filled with road-blocks and other hindrances. “It hasn’t been all smooth sailing,” O’Donell said. “We have had issues with venues for our Academies because we do not have our own National Training Centre. As a result we have had to search for suitable venues across the Country. The lack of suitable infrastructure is a big problem but I am hoping with the hosting of the FIFA U17 World Cup, at least one legacy will be the improvement in playing and training facilities.”

He added, “Age cheating has been another big issue for us but we seem to have that nearly sorted by conducting MRI tests on all Players who enter our Academy Programme.”

The Australian bemoaned the lack of competitive Football for the academy players. He maintained that while it is important to train and play friendly games, playing competitive football is also a big part of the player’s development.

The Academy had some players who recently played in the AFC U-16 Qualifiers and it was their first game of competitive football in Iran. It has been the same in previous years. The issue persists but the AIFF are working on the U-15 and U-18 National Leagues, which will hope to give many more youngsters the opportunity to play competitive football.