The AIFF Technical Director for Academies talks about how the country is setting up for the U-17 World Cup and his plans to make the tournament a success.
"I was really happy. For all the hard work put in by Mr. (Praful) Patel and Mr. Das (Kushal) in getting the guarantees from the government of India and convince FIFA that we are capable of hosting a tournament of such a magnitude" O'Donnel said.
The Australian believes this is a big boost for the country as the youngsters will get to showcase their talent in front of millions of people.
"It is now up to us. The manner in which we can make the best of this golden opportunity will define Indian football. I have always maintained that getting the FIFA 2017 U-17 World Cup would be a big boost for us. It’s a lifetime opportunity for the footballers of tomorrow to rub shoulders with the best in the world. This will also draw a lot more eyeballs".
"The biggest challenge is finding the best players born on or after 2000 and training them in the best possible way. We need to provide them with competitions and send them for exposure trips. India is a vast country with a lot of diversity so it will be quite a task finding the best talent from across the length and breadth of India. But we are committed at doing that and putting across a competitive team for the FIFA 2017 U-17 World Cup" added O'Donnel.
The technical director of AIFF stated that job of searching for the best available players has already started and 54 players have already been scouted and the search does not stop here.
"I need to sit down with Rob (Baan), Wim (Koevermans) and Kushal (Das) and map out the plan. We need to put our best foot forward and detailed planning followed by execution is required. We already have 26 boys in that age-group at our regional academy in Goa. Furthermore, we have scouted 28 boys from the recently concluded U-14 National Championships in Kalyani. So we have a base to work from with the current pool of 54 players" he stated.
"I would like to point out here that all stakeholders need to play an active part in the scouting process. The State Associations and the I-League clubs need to focus on this age-group and organise more competitions and camps for the same".
The Australian added that a few more academies will be started and a dedicated team of coaches and scouts will be set up especially to train and find the best players for the tournament.
"It will depend on the quantity and quality of players. At the moment we have plans of opening at least one more academy in this age group and take it from there. We need a strong scouting network as well to pick the best from every corner of the country".
"We will be having a dedicated technical team working on the squad which will represent India in the FIFA 2017 U-17 World Cup. I cannot reveal anything now as it’s too early".
O'Donnel added that natural turfs will be given preferrence over the artificial turfs and that the preparation for the tournament will be done in the same standard as the playing facilities.
"Our boys train on both artificial and natural turfs so they can cope with both. The decision will be taken later on as to which of the turfs will be preferred though natural turfs will get the upper hand. We have to make sure that the training facilities dished out to the boys preparing for the FIFA 2017 U-17 World Cup are of the same standard as the playing facilities".
O'Donnel is confident that the World Cup will be a huge success with the support of all the major stake holders and the AIFF and it will prove to be a massive boost for Indian football.
"It has all the makings of galvanising Indian football if we live up to the expectations both on and off the field. The required standards of infrastructure can lift Indian football to great heights. I am hopeful all stakeholders will give their best in making this one first of a kind mega-event a blockbuster" he concluded.
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