First, the Under-19 side under Colm Toal did extremely well to reach the semis of the Weifang Cup in Shandong, China.
Toal’s boys might have lost heavily to Benfica in the third place play-off but the 4-3 win over Australia’s FC Adelaide and 2-2 draw with hosts Shandong Luneng shows that this group of boys certainly have a lot of potential.
And now the India Under-16 side, coached by Thomas Joseph, are all set to take on arch-rivals Pakistan in the final of the first ever SAFF Under-16 Championship in Nepal.
The Under-16 colts opened the tournament with a defeat against Pakistan but a 5-0 thrashing win over Maldives took them to the last four and then in the semis they defeated hosts Nepal on penalties.
Joseph’s boys will be eager to lift the inaugural U-16 SAFF crown to ensure that India are the dominant force in the sub-continent at U-16 level also.
Can The Under-16 Boys Win The Final Against Pakistan?
The good showings of the Under-19 and Under-16 outfits are two more examples of the fact that India have been doing well at youth level in the recent past.
Back in 2008, India Under-16 lost narrowly to Everton juniors 2-1 and then drew 3-3 with Man United youth team. That side had the present batch of Under-23 players like Lalrindika Ralte, Malswamfela etc.
The same year, they played in the AFC Under-16 championship and despite crashing out of the group stage, Toal’s boys managed to beat Indonesia to finish third in the group.
Last year, a fresh new Under-16 team reached the semis of Coca Cola International U-16 Football Tournament, which was held in Pretoria, South Africa at the same time when the 2010 World Cup was on.
Most recently, last November, Sukwhinder Singh guided the U-23 side to the knockout stages of the 2010 Asian Games. This was the first time that India went past the group stage since the ’82 Games in New Delhi.
It is a very positive sign for Indian football that the various youth teams have been doing well but it’s a common theory that the difference between teams at youth level isn’t that big compared to senior international level.
So once the colts finish playing in various age group teams they need the right training, infrastructure and guidance in order to realize their true potential. This is where India has been lagging behind the top Asian countries in the last three decades.
Back in 1974, India was crowned the joint AFC Youth Champions along with Iran. A prominent member of that team had recently lamented that he and his teammates were only rewarded with garlands and a suitcase each after returning to the country.
There wasn’t any proper planning to use the nucleus of that team in the senior side. As a result most of the other Asian nations of that same age group moved far ahead of India, who started underachieving at international level.
The picture didn’t change in the next three decades also and this was pointed out by former India coach Bob Houghton during Asian Cup 2011.
Houghton Talked About The Lack Of Youth Development In Indian Football
Houghton used Renedy Singh’s example to show how lack of infrastructure, professionalism and youth development in Indian football has been hurting the players over the years.
"When Renedy was playing for the under-19s and he played against Japan, the teams couldn’t be differentiated. But five years later when he played them, the difference was huge. Of course, that’s got to do with the quality of the J-League and the facilities in Japan. And in India, players like Renedy have been let down by their federation (AIFF),” Houghton told the media.
The Englishman’s comments didn’t go down well with the federation but factually every word that Houghton said was absolutely correct.
Recently, with the formation of the Indian Arrows, now known as Pailan Arrows, the AIFF has taken a step in the right direction as an I-League club was formed with a fixed group of players, who had been playing together from Under-16 level.
The good showing of the Arrows in the second half of last season’s I-League and now with many of those members being part of the senior India setup proves that with a proper plan, the full potential of the youngsters can be realized.
Even though many of the players of that squad have now returned to their original clubs, a new batch will be seen in the Arrows team in the upcoming season.
Those youngsters would get to play regularly in the domestic tournaments, which wouldn’t be the case in other clubs because of the presence of foreigners and with pressure on coaches to get results. Additionally the players will also have top class facilities for training.
Formation Of Pailan Arrows - A Step In The Right Direction
Just like the Pailan Arrows concept, the Indian FA needs to come up with more such similar plans to ensure that talents in Indian football don’t go to waste. Local associations and clubs also have to play an important role in this process as many of the times over-aged players are seen taking part in the junior domestic leagues.
All that can’t change overnight but the continued success of the youth teams should once again remind the AIFF and everyone concerned that there is no dearth of talent in Indian football but they do need the right platform to make the most of it.
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