Youth is the way to go for Indian Football development

After Scott O'Donell spoke about the over-abundence of over age players in inter-state youth tournaments, looks at why this is a clear impediment in India's development..

So one of the reasons why the academy programmes hasn't rolled out is because we haven't found the players - the major reason is the overage issue.

This was an explosive comment made by Scott O'Donell, Technical Director of Academies in India at the FICCI Football Convention in 2013, commenting on the lack in noticeable improvement, in spite of FIFA setting up the academy and youth development programme in India.

"Phase I of our regional academies started in May last year in Navi Mumbai, where we have boys who are born in 1997 staying in Vashi at Fr. Agnel's school, and that's been a good 18 boys at the moment," the 45-year-old began to explain.We want to increase the base. We can accommodate upto 30 players, but we haven't found 30 players who were born in 1997, who were good enough. We're not going for quantity. We could have filled up four academies with 30 players, but that would have been below the quality that we're looking for."

As O'Donell rightly points out, but it is still baffling to accept, that in a country of more than 100 crore people, it is difficult to find 30 players, born in 1997 who are good enough to play football on a national level. It is obvious that the need to build better infrastructure and structured training programs from the grassroots level is the way to move forward in making India a future Asian heavyweight when it comes to football.

Add to that, the need for an effective scouting network is paramount right from the pre-teen years from where the kids can be moulded in effective forms of football which are difficult, if not downright impossible to inculcate once in the advanced years. While training may improve one later on, the basic foundation and technique is learnt in the tender years.

The Spanish and German youth development programmes over the last decade has seen the national side benefit from their sound planning wherein the development of a potential player starts from the age of 7.

Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and Ilkay Gundogan are fruits of a superb youth programme

However, the underlying and frankly ridiculous problem which goes beyond infrastructure or scouting, as highlighted by O'Donell is the lack of quality talent to train and build up in these academies that FIFA and AIFF have set up. While it may be dismissed as the lack of a scouting network or the lack of initiative and resources when it comes to football, the real reason lies again in the attitude of the various federations in the states.

Bringing up an example of the gross level of mismanagement at the state level, where the desire to come out best among others takes precedence over development of talent or nurturing future superstars. At the Kalyani Football Festival last year where an inter state Under-16 football tournament was organized, which would provide an ideal opportunity for the scouts to hand pick talent, attended by the likes of Rob Baan and O'Donell himself, saw only three states out of all had sent all players who were of the required age. The pool of players turned out to be 75 which was supposed to stretch to hundreds at the very least.

Thus, it is the 'win at all costs' mentality that is holding back the country from developing as the states look to maximize their chances in spite of the football development in the country taking a hit. They would want to come out on top, no matter by hook or by crook as they make the most of the difficulty in accurately differentiating between small differences in age, which allows them to put in over-age footballers into the fray who enjoy an obvious advantage when it comes to skill and experience.

It must be noted that the AIFF Executive Committee, the highest decision making body for football in India, comprises of members of state football associations. If the decision makers can ensure their respective state complies with the rules and regulations then we can surely have a much better response when these youth competitions are held. This will lead to a larger representations at youth festivals and help the country's football move in the right direction

As India has made a bid to host the FIFA U-17 World Cup, it needs to get its internal policies sorted, else we would most possibly be left with the unique situation of not finding enough players to represent the nation at the youth level. Although the AIFF is doing its bit by establishing the Indian Youth only Pailan Arrows side who regularly jostle with the big boys in Indian football, the states too have to buck up and go beyond their petty politics and one-upmanship to do what is best for Indian football.

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