BY MANASI PATHAK (@ThatUnitedLady on Twitter)
Indian footballing legend Bhaichung Bhutia exchanged views with respect to the status of the beautiful game in India, in an exclusive interview with Goal.
The 40-year-old was engaged in an exhibition match held at Cooperage Football Ground, as part of the Nike Premier Cup, a popular youth championship held in association with the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
Bhaichung teamed up with U-16 players of Premier Cup semi-finalists Bengaluru FC and Shillong Lajong. His side, called Bhaichung XI, defeated the celebrity outfit called All Stars FC, which included the likes of Dino Morea, Shabbir Ahluwalia and others.
Discussing the tournament, the Tinkitam-born forward described it as an ideal platform for youngsters to attain exposure. ''The U16 I-League has been a standout tournament. The top 16 teams participate in the league. So, the Nike Premier Cup is indeed a great platform,'' he remarked.
Furthermore, the former East Bengal forward conversed about the significance of participating in competitions at an early age. He mentioned about the lessons learnt through match.
''It is really important to participate in tournaments at an early age. Matches teach you a lot about football. They teach you how to play and give you the winning attitude. Also, they make you learn about the fighting spirit of the game. The more matches the youngsters get, the better it is for their careers,'' commented Bhaichung.
Also, the former Indian player believes that kids should be introduced to football at an early age. He added that toddlers must be allowed to play on their own. ''The earlier you start playing, the better it is. The kids can start kicking the ball or playing matches from the age of four or five"
"The kids must have fun. They should be given the ball and be allowed to play by themselves. So I think the kids must be introduced to a ball at the age of three or four,'' explained Bhaichung.
The Sikkimese Sniper praised the current status of Indian football and claimed that the ambitious youth can surely succeed in enjoying a professional career in football.
''The scope for a career in Indian football currently is bright."
"Now, you can take up football as a professional career. It wasn’t so easily achieved when I had started, back then in time. So, definitely there is good future for the aspirants,'' he asserted.
However, Bhaichung thinks that the nation doesn't have enough academies to cater for the youngsters. ''India doesn’t have enough academies. We definitely need more of them. More academies mean more training, which leads to more players in the country,'' he reflected.
He also spoke about the U17 World Cup, which kick-starts in India in the month of October 2017. Bhutia reckons the Indian Colts have been backed generously by the federation and the sports ministry.
''The U17 team has been given a lot of support in every possible way- may it be from the All India Football Federation (AIFF) or Sports Ministry. So, there is no room for complaints. When I played for the U16 Indian team, we got just four matches in the entire year. So, I think all sorts of assistance has been provided to the team,'' he stated.
Finally, the legendary striker shared his view on The Blue Tigers' opponents in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. Bhaichung claimed that the Men in Blue have been placed in a fairly decent group but must strive hard to achieve best results.
''It isn’t an easy one but neither is it a group of death. We are placed in a good group, I believe. But, we’ll really have to work hard to win. Myanmar is a really good team and has defeated India in the past. Kyrgyzstan is not an easy side, either,'' he signed off.