Age-fudging, something which has been going on for a long time in India in National level and State level competitions has finally come under the highlight, and the numbers paint what is a very saddening picture of the current state of football in the nation. Coupled with inept officials – the head of the AIFF’s grassroots programme is a person who couldn’t complete the AFC ‘B’ licence coaching course in the previous year. How is it that such a person heads the nation’s grassroots programme, one which is supposed to create the footballers of tomorrow?
Also, though the AIFF says that it has 4 regional academies and one elite training, it is just a pipe-dream on its website, since it has stated that the centre in Goa should be sufficient for now. Such things don’t bode well for the future of Indian football, and it seems like we haven’t progressed at all in the past few years, with the ISL just being a spectacle. And perhaps the ISL has succeeded so because the AIFF was not a part of its planning process and the like.
Age-fudging is a problem which has oft gone under the radar but is finally being noticed. The national U-15 champions, Jharkhand, were stripped of their title since 5 of the players in their squad in the victory were overage. Similarly, the Reliance Scholarship programme ended up having 11 aspirants who were over the age line and had to be removed. Even in Bengal, this year’s U-14 league had to be paused so that those who were of college going age and yet playing in the nursery league could be weeded out! Talk about shamelessness, playing in a league much below your actual age! As usual, that isn’t the end of the story.
In a turn of events that would be hilarious if it wasn’t, the India U-19 team did not have a proper coach for more than a year until the arrival of Lee Johnson. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of such a thing happening in any country which has serious aspirations in the footballing world. The U-19 coach is also supposed to be a scout for the senior Indian National team, on which Lee Johnson had quite determinedly remarked, “If you don’t look, you don’t mind,” and, “we will scout anything that moves.” Though it would be better if we had a proper scouting system and network in place instead of putting the entire burden on one man. Could this be a case of too much workload on one man? What with having to coach the U-19 team, scouting the entire nation doesn’t seem exactly feasible.
The gap between India and other Asian footballing countries such as Japan, Korea, China, Australia, to name a few, is huge, and if proper efforts aren’t taken to combat the problems that the sport is facing in India, it will only keep getting wider.
The way forward is a long one, but with proper, calculated effort and good planning, we may finally make some headway into a sport which is almost universally loved.