ATK Mohun Bagan director Debashis Dutta, Emami East Bengal director Debabrata Sarkar, Mohammedan Sporting technical director Dipendu Biswas and IFA secretary Anirban Dutta spoke about the road ahead for Kolkata football during Sportstar’s East Sports Conclave 2023 in Kolkata. The session was moderated by The Hindu correspondent Amitabha Das Sharma.
Talking about the importance of grassroots football, Anirban said, “We need to create opportunities for the youth of the state. What we have done is we have travelled to the districts to find talent, for whom we are organising an inter-district tournament starting on February 15. We also intend to organise school and college football leagues.”
Debabrata said EB was not only concentrating on football but also a wide spectrum of sports. “We have been running a school for the last eight years and over 150 kids are associated with us. In the future, we are looking to broaden our vision and nurture talents in not only football but all kinds of sports.”
Almost in response, Debashis said, “Mohun Bagan was the only big club which used to play the Nursey League. But it has now stopped.”
He added: “Most big clubs in the ISL do not have a proper youth system. We are focusing only on flashy players and coaches who are coming from foreign countries, but the basic development of Indian football is lacking.”
‘All must unite’
Debabrata echoed Debashis’ thoughts when he said: “It shouldn’t just be East Bengal, Mohun Bagan or Mohammedan Sporting. Every club should come forward. We are with the IFA so that youth development happens. Anirban should have an eye on these and he should coordinate with AIFF and FSDL to help promote growth.
“We have had a conversation with the Sports Minister regarding youth development. Just an idea isn’t enough to develop a sport. The sponsors must come forward, without money you cannot have anything. That will determine the direction in which football will move.”
Dipendu gave the example of how Sreenidi Deccan primarily focuses on basing their game around Indian footballers and said how Mohammedan SC will also try to promote youngsters. “We have asked head coach Kibu Vicuna to take charge of our main team and reserve team. This will ensure that all age groups of football get equal attention.
“We are also trying to focus on upgrading the ground. The work will be completed soon. The drainage system will be improved and facilities like the player gymnasium and locker room need to be according to the latest standard.
Talking about the future of Indian football, Dipendu said, ”Teams are now looking to push for ISL. The infrastructure being planned is world-class. Equivalent to what we have at Real Madrid. We even have recovery rooms. Every club now wants to play the ISL as the I-League champion.” He also went on to say the change won’t happen overnight but it is important to start the process.
Political hurdles haven’t made life easier for the fraternity. Debashis says: “There is a disconnect between the bodies. Be it AIFF, IFA or the clubs, the bodies need to maintain better communication to ensure that football progresses systematically.”
“We want the AIFF and IFA to organise age-based tournaments. Our boys are practising every day and going back home. If there are no tournaments, where will our kids play?” asked Debabrata.
Debashis isn’t a big fan of the ISL, as was evident from his words. “Sunil Chhetri started his journey in the I-League. But whether ISL has taken Indian football forward, I am not a good judge of that. I am not saying it has killed Indian football, but we should all sit back and contemplate.”
ATK Mohun Bagan FC first played in the ISL in the 2020-21 season, after a merger between ATK FC and Mohun Bagan AC. East Bengal also started playing in the same season, after making a transition from the I-League. Mohammedan SC still plays its football in the I-League.
The Conclave was held in association with Hero We Care - a Hero Motocorp CSR Initiative, Indian Oil, Shiv-Naresh, Rau’s IAS Study Circle, Pinnacle Infotech, Maithan Alloys Ltd, Merlin Group, SRMB, Techno India Group’s Sister Nivedita University and Indian Bank.