Kolkata: Former India football captain Baichung Bhutia on Wednesday said the national team can be among the top 10 countries in Asia in near future through developing strong U-15 and U-17 teams.
"Through the under-15, under-17, we are going to develop so that within the next 10 to 15 years we can be one of the top 10 teams in Asia. Let's not talk about the World Cup and be unrealistic,"
Bhutia told reporters in Kolkata at a Walk For a Cause media conference where he has been roped in as a goodwill ambassador."We are now spending on the youth, at the moment we should give strong support, money to grassroot development."
The 39-year-old Bhutia credited coach Stephen Constantine for the SAFF Cup triumph recently.
India defeated Afghanistan 2-1 to win their seventh SAFF Cup.
"In the SAFF games, we have seen a lot of new players have been brought in. We have to congratulate Stephen on the success and for getting in guys like Lallianzuala (Chhangte). He was also under a lot of pressure after the World Cup qualifiers but he has now won the SAFF with so many new players, so we must give him credit," Bhutia said.
"It is all on the training camps. If Stephen gets time to prepare players, India will have results. Ultimately, if the national team does well, Indian football will progress. If national team does not do well, I-League, ISL -- nothing will succeed."
On the I-League, he said, "I-League is deteriorating in terms of crowd and fan following. We should not forget I-League has produced many players. There's no doubt that the competition and the standard of the league has increased but in terms of popularity and crowd it hasn't happened.
"For the federation, I-League is very important. Whoever wins it can play in the Asian Football Confederation Cup (AFC) and all, so it is a very important tournament. The clubs and the federation should work towards the betterment of I-League. Even though we have ISL now, the federation should support the I-League."