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19 years and counting - Harjinder Singh leading the Chandigarh Football Academy revolution

08:24 GMT+3 13/11/2019
Jeakson Singh India U17
The experienced coach, who has been the heart and soul of the famed Chandigarh Football Academy since its inception, speaks to Goal...

19 years ago, the then Governor Of Punjab, late Jack Farj Rafael Jacob decided that the state needed a football academy. 

He rang former India international and football coach Harjinder Singh to discuss the possibility of setting up an academy in Chandigarh. And the rest is history. 

Sometimes you feel Chandigarh Football Academy (CFA) never get the credit it deserves. For 19 years, Harjinder Singh has been the heart and soul of the school that has produced gems for Indian football since August 2000. And quite spectacularly, continues to nurture and bring out talented footballers even now. 

After four years of existence, CFA's first taste of success came when seven players played for India U-14 team. The CFA has had over 50 players take the field for the national team, including four players from the recent batch that played for India U-17 in the World Cup - Amarjit Kiyam, Prabsukhan Gill, Sanjeev Stalin and India's goalscorer at the global event Jeakson Singh. Former trainees list also includes Anirudh Thapa, Narender Gahlot, Vikram Pratap Singh and the Indian team that recently won the SAFF U-18 Championship had as many as eight youngsters from the CFA. 

The man leading the charge in Chandigarh is still Harjinder Singh. The 63-year-old is as passionate as ever.  Having helped so many talents come through and make it at the big stage, there are two players whose career growth has pleasantly surprised the coach. "I was surprised to see Nishu Kumar and Amarjit Kiyam’s career growth. Initially, there were not so good. They worked hard. I never thought they will reach the current level. Nishu was so good in the ISL in terms of speed and quality. I don’t know why he is not playing now. The improvement of these two boys has been really impressive," he spoke to Goal

"I played for India for 11 years. I have observed after the 1982 Asian Games that the players' basics were so poor. I know the value of ball control and creativity. My idea was that when the boys grow up, their basics should be perfect.

"All foreign and Indian coaches are very happy about the basics of our boys. It is helping the boys to shape their career. The boys are told everything that they need to know when they face an international opposition. I heard from the boys that the foreign coaches gave exactly the same lessons we taught them  - 'it was easy for them to manage these things."

Harjinder has been around for so long and knows Indian football inside out. When the country talks about wanting India to target a World Cup spot, the experienced brains are hoping Igor Stimac's team to reach a level that will help them to compete against the Asian giants and regularly qualify for the Asian Cup

"In the last few years, I have seen improvement in Indian football. When we used to play, there were no camps, only one or two month camp for international tournaments. For the last few decades, the preparation (given to us) was very bad by the Federation (AIFF).

"The foreign coaches have told the boys how to take advantage of the opponents and how to manage as a team. India are doing well with (a few of) the Asian teams but when they play against Iran, Japan or South Korea, they will face difficulty. Indian football is not prepared to face that kind of football," he said.

He added, "I will tell you why. To win against these teams, you have to improve your individual capacity - how to keep the ball under pressure, how to manage when playing against quality players. This will only happen when CFA is open all over India with good quality coaches.

"I have seen in India that grassroots coaching is not good. I have seen Reliance Foundation play well. But it will take a long time to reach the required level (to take on international competition).

"Sometimes in a trial, the boys are tall, they have great physique but their technical qualities are below the required standards. (It means) they were not trained with good coaches when they were kids."

Maybe one day India will have academies like the CFA in every nook and corner.