Grassroots, youth football, baby league and several more concepts are in vogue these days. Every club speaks big time about how much they are or have contributed towards the development of young players and Indian football at large.
The narrative includes how they have plans to run an academy or already have one, how they are starting reserve teams or how their set of players shall play in the Under-15 and Under-18 leagues. All one needs to do is speak to any club official or coach and they shall probably give a lecture on how successful their model is and how they have the perfect roadmap to India’s rise as a footballing nation.
All one needs to do is look at the composition of the India Under-17 squad and that more or less provides an insight whether the clubs are indeed running a successful programme. Yes, every coach has his own preferences of what kind of players he would need which is understandable. However, the fact that their youth development system isn’t able to produce any such player to make the cut in the national team set-up would certainly get any responsible owner to question their strategy and introspect.
The success of a good youth system is that it can produce top quality youngsters who would go on to play for the Indian national team at various age group levels.
In this case, we would exclude the clubs who came into the national fold in the last four-to-five years. One cannot judge the work done by them in such a short period though Minerva FC certainly deserves a lot of credit as Jeakson Singh, Nongdamba Naorem, Mohammad Shahjahan and Anwar Ali were part of the club before joining the India Under-17 squad.
However, Jeakson was part of Chandigarh Football Academy (CFA) while Shahjahan and Anwar were with the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) youth set-up before being released.
The question is what is the contribution of clubs who have been in existence and make tall claims about their grassroots programme.
Aniket Jadhav was part of Krida Prabhodini School in Pune before joining Pune FC’s youth team. Another team from Pune, a city which struggles to get crowds in numbers for either I-League or ISL matches, DSK Shivajians have also played an important role in the development of Nongdamba Naorem who spent a year in their academy, which has a tie-up with Premier League giants Liverpool FC.
Hendry Antonay spent close to two years at Bengaluru’s Ozone FC academy, an I-League second division side. Also, Rahim Ali plied his trade for one season in the Nursery League for Mohun Bagan, the famous Kolkata club.
Apart from these four players, none have been associated with any club participating in the national league.
Most of the boys have been either picked by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) from the nationals or were scouted directly. It’s fair to say that the best youth development programme is run by the Indian FA and not so much by the existing clubs.