Praful Patel: We need to play more international games

"I wish we reach the top 10, but that will be the next step. To reach to 50 is most important and we will do everything possible," says Praful Patel.

The AIFF president Praful Patel at the Just Play program, conducted at the Cooperage ground.   -  Special Arrangement

Praful Patel, president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the Western India Football Federation (WIFA), felt that India breaking into the first 50 nations in FIFA rankings should be the mission. He complimented the senior squad and national coach, Stephen Constantine, for reaching the 100th ranking and was of the view that the next big push will happen when the India U-17 footballers graduate to the national squad.

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Talking on the sidelines of the WIFA’s Just Play programme at the Cooperage, aimed at awareness about gender equality, sanitation and hygene via football, he clarified that the I-League champion club, Aizawl FC’s threat of protest over exclusion when the I-League is merged with the Indian Super League is premature. Patel pointed out that till the new road map for Indian football is announced, the existing structure will continue. Excerpts:

India becoming the 100th ranked nation on the FIFA list

We are happy to reach the top 100 (nations in FIFA rankings). It will be nice when we reach the top 50 at least in the next five years. That should be Indian football’s mission. I wish we reach the top 10, but that will be the next step. To reach to 50 is most important and we will do everything possible.

Hopes from the India U-17 World Cup players

The U-17 World Cup is the first step in that direction. They will become the future generation over the next five to seven years for the national team, which is when I expect India to break into the list as one of the top-ranked sides in the world.

On preparation towards getting into FIFA top 50

India needs to play more international games for our ranking to improve. The federation has been encouraging the national coach and players about being open to playing more international games, because that is the only way to get more exposure. Playing higher ranked teams and winning will improve their confidence.

On timeline, if any, for India breaking into the top 50

I hope so in the next two years. From March 2015 to March 2017, India moved 73 places up. I think it is a proud moment and hope this progress continues. From the AIFF, we will do everything to support the team towards more international exposure, play more friendlies.

On Indian Super League benefit for national squad

This is the contribution of Indian football as a whole. There is no specific thing about one tournament. Today we have national players even in I-League teams. The development (100 ranking) is a combination of the progress we are trying to make at every level.

On benefit from youth development plans

Most of the Indian national team players were in the U-19 Indian side, known as the Indian Arrows (disbanded subsequently). It was the foundation for many players currently in the squad (India seniors). For three years, the Indian Arrows took part in the I-League as a special case. As the consequence of three years’ continuous support to Indian Arrows, at least half the Indian team is from there.

On reason for optimism on U-17 players

The younger lot of players is the future of Indian football. The older players are doing well; the younger players can be conditioned better to change their approach and style of play. The kind of support India U-17 players are getting at this age, the exposure gained is tremendous. I compliment the current India team for whatever they have achieved, the next big push will come when the younger lot comes to the fore.

On extent of AIFF support to Aizawl FC’s future plans

Aizawl was relegated in 2016 and the federation saw the passion and let them play in the I-League as a special case. They won the I-League this year. I congratulate the team and the coach (Khalid Jamil) and everybody who has contributed towards the successful march. In future, every club has to generate its own funding. We do not come into the picture. The AIFF has no role in the club structure, it is their domain. Now they will qualify for the AFC Cup. We will be happy to see an Indian club moving higher up the Asian ladder.

On protest threat from Aizawl FC if excluded after merger

They have said about a letter sent to me. I have not yet received a letter (from Aizawl). The I-League got over three days ago. Threats are being made (protests to be launched in case the club is made to play the I-League lower division). The AIFF does not get intimidated by any threat and works for the good of Indian football.

The road map has yet not been decided. No formal structure for next year is decided. I-League is the official league of India. Till a new road map is decided, the old road map will continue. Nothing is decided (as yet) today. If nothing is decided, then tomorrow the earlier thing will continue.

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