Ever since it was announced in December 2013 that India would be hosting the U-17 Football World Cup, the country had been waiting to find out how the national team would fare. Now we know. They were not embarrassing, nor were they as good as the optimists hoped they would be.
Former Trinidad striker Cornell Glen, who has played in the 2006 FIFA World Cup and for Indian clubs, tweeted just before the U-17 event saying he was happy that India was hosting it, for it would show how far behind the rest of the world the country is, in youth development. He received a lot of flak, but his words probably sum up the World Cup for India. The team played with a lot of spunk, but it was obvious they were way behind in skill and technique.
What next? The boys have created an amount of expectation. How to sustain it? India has bid for the U-20 World Cup. However, getting an entry as hosts when you don’t stand a chance to qualify can’t be a development model. Hosting a big event and spending a lot of money grooming a team is a good attempt. There has to be a follow-up plan and it’s not clear if we in India have one in mind.
India doesn’t have a proper footballing structure. Most kids kick a ball around casually and get their first coach when they are 12-13 and that too only if they are lucky. In contrast, kids in Europe or South America start playing organised football as early as five or six. Not without reason do boys from these countries display tactical understanding, other than better basic ball skills.
In India, other than the Tata Football Academy and another in Chandigarh, there are no other initiatives dedicated to this. One is a private enterprise and the other run by the state government. Top clubs have looked only at trophies, paying no attention to youth development. Unless the U-17 World Cup is taken as a starting point, it will become a happy memory, a few hours away from reality.