Size does not matter in football is a statement quite overused. You would see coaches give example of an Andres Iniesta or Lionel Messi or Xavi. They will tell you if you have the talent and technique, your size does not matter.
Agreed but in those cases the players have undergone training and played competitive fixtures from Under-8 level. They take to the game of football from the age of five or six. People often ignore this and believe that if a boy takes up the game around the age of 15, he can certainly learn those skills.
Most of the skills, which will last until the lifetime, are learnt between the age of five and 10, according to most experts. Rafa Benitez opines that best age for football initiation is 10 years where a kid should be taught technical skills such as trapping the ball, half-trapping with the sole and inside of the foot, cushioning of the ball with the inside and outside of the foot, dribbling with the inside and outside of the foot, kicking with the inside and the instep of the foot and heading.
In India, this kind of work at grassroots level is conducted only in certain catchments. You could probably say Mizoram or a Manipur or a few academies or soccer schools. Such work isn’t done on a district or state level.
When India played USMNT in their first game of the Under-17 World Cup, the difference in technique and size was apparent. Except for Anwar Ali, Dheeraj Singh and to an extent, Amarjit Singh and Aniket Jadhav, most players would be easily brushed aside when put under pressure.
Under pressure means when the opposition player closes in. On most occasions, they didn’t have to tackle either. Komal Thatal, who showcased some dribbling skills, except for one occasion when he actually managed to go beyond his marker and send a ball across the face of the goal, was too lightweight. The passes were overhit or the ball was simply taken away from him.
On another occasion, Ninthoiganba Meetei, who was one of the impressive players, made a dashing run into the opposition half after turning a defender. However, all it took for a US defender was five long strides to close in and win the ball easily.
Mind you, this isn’t a critical piece on players.
The point here is that not every player in the Under-17 team started playing football at an early age. And unless you do not have exceptional skills on the ball, on the international stage, you will be brushed aside.
As much as we ignore, physicality is very much a need. As Luis Norton de Matos said, “You cannot be a good gymnast if you are very tall or you cannot be an excellent basketball player if you are of 160 metres. For certain positions, height and size does matter.”
It’s time the country realizes it.