Iker Casillas, Francesco Totti and Mario Gotze sing their national anthems in a video montage of previous Under-17 World Cups — the images are grainy in places, their physiques gangly, their expressions nervous and their skills raw but ridiculous. Casillas makes a great save, Totti scores a stunner and Gotze heads in at the near post amid images of Fernando Torres and Ronaldinho slalomming past defenders. Then these players go on to kiss the World Cup — the senior one, the one that matters the most in world sport.
Tournament director of the U17 World Cup (to be held in India in 2017), Javier Ceppi nods as all these faces celebrate on his laptop screen, followed by what is incredibly obvious by this time: "As you can see, this is not just another event."
Amid the tinkling of glasses and the clatter of plates in a restaurant in Mumbai, Ceppi and Joy Bhattacharjya (project director of the Local Organising Committee of the U17 WC) drive the main points about organising a World Cup in India: The most important one being that it's not just about football — it's about sporting legacy in the country, about showing that India can host a top event, and a chance to lay down the marker for the future.
And the secret to this success lies in shedding the common 'jugaad' tactic to make way for a more streamlined, professional, serious and deadline-bound approach — because argue as much as one may, this is not the cricket world cup with 10 to 14 countries watching. This is a world sport and a world event, with scouts coming from Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich among others to watch the most talented teenagers in football grab a chance to make it big.
Ceppi uses previous U17 WC host Chile as an example to make his point — the South American country has hosted the Dakar rally, the Copa America and the U17 WC in the previous year.
"They've realised that the only way to pull these off is to follow the system. If India, as the prime minister has said, wants to hold major sporting events, then there is no jugaad. No chance of jugaad. You need to work two-three years in advance to get everything ready — because the amount, level of policing of detail is unlike anything India has seen. The jugaad culture works in some places, but to host major sporting events, there has to be strategy, and jugaad does not work," Ceppi says, pronouncing 'jugaad' with a surprising Indian flavour.
Bhattacharjya, who has worked with Kolkata Knight Riders as Team Director and Advisor, adds weight to this argument: "We need to bring systems into place — Fifa may listen to some of the requests, but they are inflexible in most instances — and that is why it has succeeded so far. It's about replicating a basic model everywhere. Our word is jugaad, and theirs is system. For Javier (Ceppi), the biggest thing is to get to people, saying 'we know you'll do it at the last minute, but you cannot do it that way. This is the way it's done'."
Both Ceppi and Bhattacharjya stress on the importance of 'mindset change' — and given the controversy surrounding the hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 2010, it becomes even more vital to successfully pull off the U17 World Cup and change the perception of the country.
"The AIFF (All India Football Federation) and Fifa have been outspoken about how if India pulls this off, they will bid for the U20 World Cup either in 2019 or 2021. AIFF has also been open to AFC events. That is one way where you can keep the football community engaged. The other aspect is getting a community engaged and how to keep them engaged after the U17s."
Bhattacharjya says that there is vibrant football community in the country — those "who are not talking about MS Dhoni right now" — and that this base can be expanded with a plan called Mission 11 million.
"You can support your Ronaldos and Ronaldinhos, but our attempt will be to convince India that there is our team also. These are our boys. Nicolai Adam (U17 coach) has gone to great lengths to find talent in the country and there is no dearth of it. It's not always nutrition and other physical factors that matter, it's also passion and excitement about the game."
He makes an interesting point as well, about how the mindset of teenagers is fresh and unshackled, unlike the average cynical Indian football fan used to seeing his team lose.
"All we've seen is the national team going down and we have all that baggage. Our belief is the guy who is playing at the U17s is the first generation to be born after 1 January 2000. These guys are born in an economic and social superpower and have none of our baggage - they don't care that India never played in a World Cup - their mindset is that we are playing a World Cup now."
There is no doubt that the organisers will drum up enough interest for Indians to watch their team play in their first World Cup — but Ceppi says it is also important to limit expectations to reality. Since starting serious preparations, India's touted U17 side has lost only seven of 17 international fixtures.
"More than setting a benchmark and saying that India should win the World Cup — we have to say we should be proud of what India is doing. India should compete. And the kids so far are competing and improving. Guatemala tied three matches in the U20 World Cup in 2011 and got three ties and made it to the round of 16. A five-day public vacation was announced to celebrate, until the country played next time. That is the sort of effect a good performance can have. But even if India doesn't get the results, we can never see it as a failure," Ceppi says, referring to India as 'we' — in tandem with his Twitter bio that goes "helping shape the future of Indian football".
On Ceppi's assessment, India is far ahead of previous U17 hosts Chile and UAE in terms of preparations — '55 percent there', to be precise — and now the final push begins as the October 2016 deadline nears. There's a long way to go, but if India pulls this off, it will be a remarkable feat in terms of organisation — a trigger for more major football events to be hosted in a country which can ride on this attention and break free from its 'sleeping giant' tag.
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Updated Date: Dec 01, 2015 08:48:44 IST