Indian women’s football team needs more exposure tours: Anadi Barua

State-level tournaments would go a long way in creating a pool of quality players for the women's national football team, says former coach Anadi Barua.

Barua stressed on the importance of domestic tournaments.   -  special arrangement

After India’s second-round exit from the AFC Olympic qualifiers last year, women’s football in the country will be under the spotlight when it hosts the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup early next year. According to Anadi Barua, the former head coach of the national team, to ensure an overall better health of the women’s game in India, grassroot-level changes are needed.

Barua, also a former India player, believes the national team needs a lot more exposure tours to get better, and said State-level and corporate tourneys for senior and age-group players could provide a talented pool of players for the highest level.

Barua said it was imperative for the members of the national team to go abroad, preferably Europe, and play against strong teams. “Even if we cannot facilitate a European tour, tours to Malaysia, Japan, Singapore or Thailand can certainly be looked at,” he told Sportstar.

“Exposure tours are a must; at least three exposure trips every year is important. I believe the Indian women’s team can do better than the men when it comes to FIFA rankings,” he said.

Assessing 2019 from the standpoint of the national team, he said: “We won the SAFF Championship in 2018 and 2019, but we weren’t able to qualify for the [third round of the AFC Olympic qualifiers]. We need a lot of exposure tours; in 2019, we played about 12-15 matches, we played well. But until we play against European teams, our standards won’t improve.”

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That players like Aditi Chauhan and Bala Devi have played for European clubs augured well for Indian football, Barua felt. Chauhan signed up to play for West Ham United last year, in the U.K., while Bala Devi grabbed an opportunity to play with Rangers, a Scottish club. Not only could they learn new skills, they could keep themselves sharp by playing every week.

“Bala Devi’s European exposure will be good for Indian women’s football. Aditi Chauhan has also gained experience from abroad. In football, one should play a lot; the more you play, the better you will be. Unfortunately, in India we don’t have many tournaments for women barring one or two like the Subroto Cup. The U-16 Championship takes place once a year. On the other hand, when you go abroad, you play every week,” Barua pointed out.

Unlike their male counterparts, women didn’t have an elite tournament like the Indian Super League. But Barua felt instead of replicating the ISL, more State-level competitions that ran for a good length of time could be arranged.

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He said, “We need tournaments in the grassroots: U-12, U-14, U-16 tournaments. That will give the women some motivation to play football. In our country, not all States have women’s football. Every State should have a league and it should go on for a minimum of two months. We can make it a three-month affair, with games in weekends only; it will help the State, and it will help the country. It will help the kids, too, as they will get some money for their participation and will improve their skills and fitness.”

Women’s football in India suffered from a lack of steady income for aspirants. “One problem we have is that there’s no steady income from women’s football. Some women are working in the police department, Manipur police and Railways[, etc.]. Otherwise there’s no opportunity anywhere. Organisations should have a five percent quota for them for jobs. If not five percent, then two percent. Then the women’s team will turn out to be good,” he said.

“If there’s no job, how long will a kid continue to play? If on the other hand, there are jobs, teams are created [for corporate tournaments] – ICF, Railways, Air India, etc. It will help the Indian women’s football team become strong.”

The U-17 Women’s World Cup was helping build up the buzz for football in India, felt Barua. “The training that the kids get for the U-17 World Cup will be helpful for them. It’s a global event where the whole world will be tuned in; it will be a matter of pride for the Indian team,” he concluded.

 

Remembering P. K. Banerjee, Chuni Goswami

Barua played for the Indian team under P. K. Banerjee in the 1980s. Mourning the death of Banerjee and Chuni Goswami, he said, “P. K. Banerjee was my coach. I played the Nehru Gold Cup under him. I haven’t played under Chuni Goswami but he’s a legend and a hero of Indian football. He was good at cricket as well as football.”

How was Banerjee as a coach? “He was a very good coach, very dynamic. The way he used to speak to us and motivate us, it used to fire us up. He knew how to tackle the players. He knew what skills to be employed at what junctures,” Barua said.

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