Former legends today lambasted All India Football Federation for the sorry state of the game in the country as India slipped slipped below war-torn Afghanistan in the latest FIFA rankings after being humbled by a lower-ranked Myanmar.
"The AIFF is to be blamed for this sorry state of the game. There was a time when we were the Asian giants and today we are struggling to qualify for tournaments like 2014 AFC Challenge Cup and are losing to Myanmar," said T Balaram, member of the Indian team during 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games.
Deflated by the fact that even Afghanistan is two places above India (143) in the latest FIFA rankings, Balaram said it is painful to see the 'Blue Tigers' in such miserable state.
The Afghans, ranked 141, are now at their best-ever position and have qualified for the AFC Challenge Cup 2014 together with Palestine (150) and Myanmar (155th), while India are yet to qualify: "There was a time when we were the undisputed Asian champions and a force to reckon with even in World football.
We were the gold medallist in the 1962 Asian Games and we also secured bronze medal in the 1970 Games. But since then, it has all gone downhill," said the Arjuna awardee, who was here to attend S A Rahim Memorial Football Tournament at Jamia Milia University.
Asked about the reason for the decline of Indian football, he said lack of facilities at the grassroots level and the Federation's inefficiency are the major reasons for such a state.
Coming down hard at the practice of spending millions and hiring foreign coaches, S Hamid, a member of the Indian team during the 1960 Olympics, feels that such a move is just a waste of money and shows the nonchalant attitude of the federation officials.
"The officials just want to get away by merely hiring a foreign coach and paying him huge sums of money. And when the team fails it becomes easier for them to blame them and fire them," Hamid said.
Terming the interest of AIFF in holding the U-17 World Cup 2017 as a mere publicity stunt, Balaram blasted them saying such a huge amount of money can go a long way in developing the game and setting up football academies.
"What is the point in holding such an event. We may even host a good event but to what end? Will that improve our playing standards? This is a mere publicity stunt by the federation," he added.
Mohammed Habib, member of the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games bronze winning team, feels appointing foreign coaches and giving them a pool of mere 30-35 players to select from for the national team is of no use.
"An Indian coach should be appointed because he can communicate well with the players and will be able to develop a larger pool of players. In the time a foreign coach comes and settles, the Indian coach can work on the team and help them grow," he said.
Coming down hard at the I-league, Balaram said it was serving no purpose, as it was not exactly a national championship: "Just getting 3-4 teams from West Bengal and a few more from the Goa, doesn’t make a national championship. And moreover, the federation is least interested in taking the game to new centres. Even in these traditional powerhouses of the game, the standard of the game has gone down drastically."
"Here, rather than blooding our young players, we are giving chance to fringe African players. What purpose does it all serve? they questioned.
Hamid believes that football can only be revived by improving facilities within the country: "Instead of spending millions to hire foreign coaches and sending the players on exposure trips abroad, the authorities should use the money and set up international facilities in the country. We need to have a well-built structure here in India," he said.
The recent selection of Arata Izumi, a Japan-born Indian footballer in the national team is a wake-up call for the players here, feels Habib: "It is something that is bound to be if our players do not improve their levels. It's not a healthy sign for them," he said.
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