FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017: India has potential but must prioritise grassroots for growth, says Rabiu Afolabi
Former Nigerian defender Rabiu Afolbe believes that hosting U-17 FIFA World Cup will create awareness about football but India must focus on promoting the sport at grassroots.
With the FIFA U-17 World Cup around the corner, Indian football has undergone drastic changes from top to bottom in an attempt to become a footballing nation. A number of programs have been carried out over the past few years as hosting such a huge event will require top facilities and mobility. What will be more interesting is how India, as a team, shapes its path post the mega event, having experienced top-level football.
"There is a huge potential in India considering the volume in the population. You go in different states, there's a different quality. I think football is really developing in India and of course with the help of the FIFA U-17 World Cup later this year. This will create a lot of excitement among the kids to involve in the sport," says former Nigeria international, Rabiu Afolabi who was in Mumbai as a part of the Mission XI Mission festival, alongside Carles Puyol and sports minister Vijay Goel, for promoting the World Cup.
Despite the buzz about football in the country, there have been murmurs about the under-par standard of the sport, more importantly about the lack of development at the grassroots. However, it may baffle a few thinking that how football is often considered as a minority in a country of 1.3 billion.
"India requires a lot of development in football, especially the grassroots. The platform is not really there for grassroots," points out the ex-Monaco defender.
Although India won't be the favourites going into the much-awaited event, but for many, what really matters is that the young team get some important experience by playing against some of the brightest upcoming talents, who could potentially become the next Cristiano Ronaldo's or the Lionel Messi's in the coming years. Playing on the same field alongside top young players will not only indicate how prepared the Indian kids are but also highlight where the problems lie.
Moreover, Afolabi believes that scouting holds an important role in building a foundation for young talents. Scouting will open the gates for all the aspiring kids who feel the scope for football is scarce. Enough opportunities at an early stage will make the task easier for the scouts to identify and help pick quality players from within.
"The talent is not really there because there is no platform. The infrastructure is not there too for the players. In India, we need to improve the infrastructure and invest in coaching program at the grassroots level. We need to scout and pick raw talents from every department of the country," reasons the 37-year-old.
Afolabi has seen how the Super Eagles have developed to become one of the powerhouses in Africa and also how grassroots initiatives helped in bringing out the best, not only on at the club level but also for the nation.
"In today's football, a lot of clubs in Europe, they invest more on grassroots and in their own products. You also need to have a lot of patience for the results to come. Maybe in the next 10-15 years, they will be ahead of the game. All the money that they spend running grassroots courses, they will earn the money back," he signs off.
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