Is Indian Football dying a slow death? Most readers would think this as quite an odd question to be asked just as the Indian Super League is set to begin, but it is one which needs to be discussed and talked about, especially with the dismal performances of the National team in the world cup qualifiers. Losing to Guam, a country whose population is barely a percent of India’s population, drawing against a measly Nepal still recovering from the horrors of an earthquake? It looks like Indian football has only taken backward steps since the start of the year which promised a lot, but has failed to deliver on any aspect of the sport.
India began the year ranked in the 140’s, but as the year has progressed, the team’s rank has fallen even further and gone down to 155 as of the latest official FIFA rankings. Lack of practice matches against opponents coupled with a lack of desire to invest heavily in the sport has seen us continuously plummet down the table. Indeed, it seems as if the AIFF is content to build sandcastles in the air and give false promises of qualifying for the world cup when in reality the standard of the team, its fitness, the current training facilities and training programs are nowhere near the level which could actually see the national team make it to any major tournament.
In fact even if India manage to qualify for the world cup by some miracle – such as being the hosts of the tournament, like South Africa in 2010 – the team is in no shape to compete against the bigwigs and will only end up getting mauled by their opponents. In the recent match against Iran, defender Sandesh Jhingan was the only one who looked like he gave a damn and put his body on the line to help the team keep a respectable scoreline, which would have otherwise been a rout.
It seems a lot of the Indian players are content to play in the safety of the I-league, unwilling to take a risk and venture into the foreign leagues, having grown accustomed to their comfort zones here. Young Indian players who have looked like superstars in the Indian Super League (ISL), standing shoulder to shoulder with international greats of yesteryear have failed to match with the intensity of International football. Rafique, who scored the winner for Atletico in the inaugural ISL season spent the I-league season on the East Bengal bench, unwilling to move and develop his game.
Freddie Ljungberg who only played barely played 90 minutes in ISL for Mumbai City FC stated that the Indian players were 3-4 moves behind their foreign counterparts, that they lack the footballing IQ and know-how of when to time a run, where to time it, and when to play a pass. Slow, that is the keyword when it comes to their game sense. The AIFF which made a show of having grand plans of the future now has discontinued two of its major tournaments for the year, while many of their training centres have been shut down as well. The players and the management both have been at fault here, allowing complacency to seep in. With Bhaichung Bhutia retired and Sunil Chhetri not getting any younger, the reins of Indian football have no successor for the future, and if there isn’t a complete overhaul of the current system, then our fortunes may get even worse.