Legendary Premier League manager Arsene Wenger, who is currently FIFA’s global chief of football development, said that his team would look to help India find ‘its feet’ in football, as he inaugurated the AIFF-FIFA Academy in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday.
“No country has more rights than another to be at the top of the world. It’s just down to how well you educate your children. Our effort is to educate the children, to give them time and to get them to be as good as they can be,” Wenger told reporters.
“I believe India has always invested a lot in education. But football is not like any other job. Unfortunately, it starts at a very young age. You cannot start to play football at 15 years of age. You have to start at 5-6 years because you have to find your feet. That’s what we want to do.”
The former Arsenal gaffer, All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Kalyan Chaubey and M. Satyanarayanan, acting general secretary of AIFF were all present at the programme, which saw FIFA’s new chapter of its Development scheme unfold.
In May this year, FIFA Delegates, Juerg Nepfer, Head of Technical Development Services, and Chokey Nima, Regional Technical Consultant, Global Football Development, South Asia, and Ged Roddy, FIFA High-Performance Expert arrived in India to set up an academy.
The Odisha Football Academy, which was previously used as training grounds for the under-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup 2022, was finally selected as the venue.
“I would like to come back to how we got here in the first place, with my team. We realised that among 211 countries, over 150 countries have no means to use (football) education. The best countries in the world have the best education system,” Wenger said.
“That means that many talents in the world don’t get the chance. So, we created a program to give every talent in the world a chance. The aim is to identify talent and with the best talents together, given they get good coaching, education and level of competition, many of them would have great careers.”
“The quality of infrastructure is great. We (will) dedicate our own coach and give our assistance. Hopefully, in the future, we will be rewarded if we do it well,” he added.
The AIFF president said that the academy will look to build the base for age-group tournaments to get India closer to dreaming of a World Cup qualification.
“India is known for cricket globally, but football is a mass sport we all love,” Chaubey said, “ There cannot be a prouder moment for me when someone like Wenger is here in India, and his guidance, leadership, technical plan and strategy will help India to dream better. Let us dream of qualifying for an under-17 World Cup on merit.”
India has played in both men’s and women’s under-17 World Cups once (2017 and 2022, respectively), but both were automatic qualifications as host nations. In both tournaments, India crashed out in the group stages without winning any match.
“I have high hopes and expectations that through the FIFA-AIFF talent development scheme, we can have our best national team in the under-17 category in the next three years,” Chaubey added.
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