A ray of hope from the twin triumphs

Published : Aug 16, 2003 00:00 IST

TWO recent successes have brought Indian football into focus again.

TWO recent successes have brought Indian football into focus again. East Bengal has proved that Indian clubs can hold their own on foreign soil with a stupendous victory in the LG Cup ASEAN Championship, while the title-win by the Indian Under-18 team in an international youth tournament in Wales, beating a Brazilian side to boot, is a significant development in the context of the country's youth development programme.

Suddenly, then, like a good spell of rain in a drought-hit area, the success has brought happiness around. For a sport which has been struggling for an identity and direction to get away from the shackles of vested interests and move towards a more organised and systematic path of development, the twin triumphs have offered a sliver of hope.

They have not come a day too soon for Indian football. What has appalled football watchers over the years has been the reluctance of the administration to break from the past and usher in modern methods of development, in particular professionalism in every area of activity. Time without number this bane of Indian football had been highlighted on various platforms but without triggering any tangible improvement in matters.

To some extent it had to do with the vastness of the country and the varying practices followed at different areas. Partly it also has to do with the dogged indifference of the officials in the past. Nothing reflected this more than the way national championships have been reduced to mere rituals, both in terms of their conduct and participation.

It was at the first major conference held in New Delhi about five months ago, under the auspices of both the Asian Confederation and FIFA that a major thrust was sought to be given vis-a-vis the need for a total revamp of the administration and bringing in professionalism. In the eyes of the Asian body, there is much that India could contribute to the development of the sport in the continent, considering its history and its current potential.

While the present set of office-bearers have shown eagerness to set changes in motion, it certainly takes time to remove the cobwebs and introduce modern thinking. It is in such a setting that the latest success story is not just a matter to rejoice but also a shot in the arm.

What is noteworthy about East Bengal's success is that it has come about at the expense of a team which is placed in the top five in Asia. Also, the performance was a vindication of Coach Subash Bhowmick's theory that a team's success depended not just on foreign players but on proper blend with the native talent and on physical fitness. That this club now has a fitness expert, a new development, needs to be underscored.

Of course Bhowmick's task was made easier by the superb touch that the current star player, Bhaichung Bhutia was in but credit has to go to the entire combination. Bhutia's success would not have been as phenomenal without his colleagues' support, in particular players like Surkumar Singh, Avito D'Cunha and of course the foreigners, Sulay Musah and Douglas Da Silva not to forget the fine goalkeeping by Sandip Nandy. Overall it was a performance worthy of emulation by other clubs in the NFL.

Equally significant is the effort of the junior squad. Having given enough notice at the prestigious Milk Cup tournament in Ireland where it did not progress far but still had a significant gain in terms of a win over renowned Dynamo Kiev, the combination struck gold in the Wales tournament.

It is a boost to the junior development programme aimed at putting together a team for the 2010 World Cup and certainly a pat on the back for the Tata Football Academy since a majority of the players come from there.

This has been one Academy in the private sector which had steadfastly kept its objective intact and churned out quality players. If in the recent past these players made their way to the leading clubs, the stress now on the junior programme has enabled them to come together to earn success.

With another International fixture for the Under-19 coming up shortly in Jamshedpur under the auspices of TFA, the juniors have a chance again to keep India's flag flying high. The need then is to sustain this tempo, for growth stems from strong training at the grassroots.

The success of TFA on the other hand should motivate other corporate bodies to join hands in the development of a sport, which at the international level today is not just the most popular but is a billion-dollar industry. AIFF could also lead the way in establishing tie-ups with major academies in the world and spreading the benefits to areas which have been providing the major flow of talent lately. Indeed Bhutia's success alone should make AIFF look nowhere beyond the North East and Sikkim in particular.

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