Shanmugham Venkatesh: Indian football benefitting from better facilities and exposure

While pointing out the generational differences in infrastructure and practice for players, the former player refused to compare players from different eras calling it unfair to do so.

India Men's football team

Indian football has come a long way thanks to a dedicated focus on infrastructure and international exposure.   -  K. Murali Kumar

From its worst ranking of 173 in 2015 to breaking into the top 100 in the FIFA chart last year, the Indian men’s football team’s performance graph has been on the upswing. It is currently ranked 101.

The team was on the verge of making its maiden AFC Asian Cup knock-out round qualification before a last minute strike by Bahrain led to a heart-breaking exit.

This upward trajectory hasn’t gone unnoticed. The increase in international exposure and access to better facilities have led to overall improvement in the performance of the national football team in the last few years, feels former captain and current India assistant coach Shanmugham Venkatesh.

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In the last four years, India played a number of friendly matches against sides like China, Jordan, Oman, Puerto Rico, besides hosting a Tri-Nation tournament in 2017, the Intercontinental Cup in 2018 among others.

“Playing sides like China, Jordan, Oman, Puerto Rico, St Kitts & Nevis, New Zealand, Kenya readied the players to face top international matches, a fact that helped them put up a competitive front at the AFC Asian Cup 2019 earlier this year,” Venkatesh said.

“As a footballer these kinds of competitive matches give you the experience of how to react to different match situations. So when you are playing in a top tournament, you do not back down,” the 40-year-old former midfielder said.

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Venkatesh said India until recently did not fare well in international tournaments due to the lack of exposure.

“You look at the current side, and you can clearly see that they go into an International match with the mentality that they are no less than their opponents.

“Back during our playing days we would merely have a camp before any big tournament, and once we were on the pitch, we would be unsure of what to expect,” said Venkatesh who made his India debut during the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok against Japan.

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He went on to explain that the current national team is exposed to a lot more facilities than before, which has played another role in the overall improvement in the last half-a-decade.

“Around 15 years back, the players could not always avail facilities that would help us with our game. But now, a footballer can access world-class facilities,” said Venkatesh.

“To add to that, the players are also being fed with so much information about how to keep themselves fit, what to eat, and how to conduct themselves. These things have only helped them perform better,” the former captain was quoted as saying by the official website of All India Football Federation.

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He will not, however, compare players of different eras, saying it is unfair to do so.

“It is unfair to compare the quality of players from different generations. I believe that quality is always there, and will always be there. But what makes the difference is how you groom the quality and help the footballer maximise his performance on match days,” he said.

“At the end of the day you still have 23 of the best players from your country in the squad. It does not matter which era we are playing in. Rather, what is more important is how we, as the support staff, are preparing them for the matches.”

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