Gianluca Zambrotta interview: India needs to invest in its youth for football to grow in the nation
In a freewheeling chat with Firstpost, former Italy star Gianluca Zambrotta talks about football in India, his stint with ISL club Delhi Dynamos, the Azzurri's exit from the 2018 World Cup and more.
New Delhi: Football might not be the most popular sport in India — a country that is known to worship its cricketers. But the fact that the 'beautiful game' has made rapid strides as far as its expansion in the South Asian nation is concerned can be ascertained from several factors.
Perhaps the biggest of them was the staging of the first-ever FIFA event in the country earlier this year, with the U-17 World Cup successfully taking place in the month of October. One could also look at the expansion of the Indian Super League (ISL) which enters its fourth edition this year. Then there's India's rise in the FIFA rankings in recent times, with the side attaining its second-highest rank of all time (96) in July this year.
As far as former Italy international Gianluca Zambrotta is concerned, the progress has been a good one for Indian football, and it is in its youth that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) must invest if they are to continue along the path of progress.
"In India, football is increasing year-by-year. In the ISL there used to be eight sides. Now there are 10 teams. Also the months have increased wherein football is played.
"I believe that India has to invest more in its youngsters. In order to grow football as a sport, it is the principle thing that the investment should be made in the youth," said Zambrotta, who was in New Delhi on Saturday to attend live screening of the El Clasico, in an exclusive chat with Firstpost.
Zambrotta, who represented top European clubs such as Juventus, Barcelona and AC Milan and managed the Delhi Dynamos not long after retiring from the game, added that he had fond memories from his stint in the ISL.
"It was a very wonderful experience, and we were able to succeed. I feel that we (Dynamos) did a very good job. We reached the semi-finals, playing alongside Kerala (Blasters)," said Zambrotta, who left the Dynamos earlier this year for a role in the Chinese Super League (CSL).
Asked if he would consider taking up an Indian offer again, he smiled, adding that he might think of it once his CSL contract expires in 2018.
Things haven't quite been rosy for his country of birth in recent times, at least as far as the national men's football team is concerned. The 'Azzurri' failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup that is to be held in Russia after their 1-0 aggregate loss to Sweden in the qualifiers.
It was the first time in 60 years that four-time world champions Italy had failed to qualify for the mega-event, with fans and pundits back home describing it as a disaster of monumental proportions.
"It’s a very strange feeling to see Italy not in the World Cup. It’s a part of a footballer’s life. It’s a point wherein we have to think again, and reset the entire project, and restart from the very basic and to think of the next challenge," said Zambrotta, who was part of the victorious 2006 World Cup-winning team, when asked about his views on the development.
Among the key figures to face the ire of administration after the exit was coach Gian Pierlo Ventura. The 69-year-old initially refused to step down from the position, and was eventually sacked by the Italian football federation (FIGC) three days after the drawn second-leg game against Sweden.
However, it was the team that had failed as a whole on this occasion, according to Zambrotta.
"The first responsibility is (always that of) the coach. But it is also the responsibility of the players, because the players go to the field to play. So it’s a combined effort," said the veteran of 98 appearances for the Azzurri, who singled out the 2006 victory under coach Marcelo Lippi as the greatest moment of his professional career.
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