Not one football player from Goa made it to the 22-member India U-17 squad for the friendly match against the UAE U-20 national team, indicating that there are anomalies in the grassroots programmes adopted by teams in Goa, or more needs to be done by stakeholders to raise the bar.
Dempo Sports Club has a residential football academy, and FC Goa and Salgaocar FC run their own grassroots football programmes. Two boys – Prachit and Lickson from FC Goa – made it to the U-17 camp.
In contrast, Minerva Academy started by Ranjit Bajaj in Punjab, which started a few years before the Dempo SC academy, has three players amongst the 22 probable.
“Players in the age bracket of six or seven years should be picked to attend an academy. The problem in India is that we look for boys who are in the age bracket of 12 and 13 and that is wrong. Children in the age group of six should be playing two sessions of around two and a half hours every day for six days of the week,” claims Ranjit Bajaj, whose academy boasts of contributing eight players to the national team and thirty-seven to the Indian Super League (ISL).
“You cannot open an academy with making quick money as the sole aim. Players are like a fixed deposit. They need to be nurtured for around ten years to get results. Short-term results are not possible,” opined Ranjit.
Each team in ISL gets Rs two crore from FSDL for its youth development programme and, despite the investment, the result is inconsequential in comparison to the amount of money earmarked – it crosses Rs 100 crore.
Dempo SC started its residential academy in Ella five years ago, and apart from having a few boys selected to attend Indian camps and a player to the U-15 squad, the contribution to the national team has been limited when equated with the money invested.
The player who was selected for the U-15, apart from getting some minutes to play for the country, has not progressed significantly.
Prachit of FC Goa displayed talent in the age group tournaments of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Goa Football Association (GFA) and made it to the selection of the India squad for the friendly against UAE. But he and Lickson could not make it to the squad of 22.
Sources in AIFF mention their inability to match the physical abilities of their counterparts as the reason.
“We educate the boys, and their parents on the need to change their ward’s diet, but we cannot force them. Parents of many children with talent are sometimes unable to provide their children with nutritional meals on a regular basis,” laments Derrick Pereira, the technical director of FC Goa and former India coach.
“Apart from diet, we need to develop a structure for competitive football in Goa where the youngsters can have as many competitive matches a year to participate in,” suggested Derrick.
“Football in Goa needs new ideas and that can happen when we allow new faces to run the game,” added Derrick.
“It is unfortunate that no player from Goa is in the U-17 India team to play the friendly against UAE, but we should not see it as the end of the road as we in GFA are working to set up plans to have longer age group competitions from next season. Competitive football is important to develop football and as we are still putting systems in place after being elected,” stated GFA president Caitano Fernandes.
“Competitive football is important to develop the culture of football. In the old days, we used to have height-wise tournaments and not by age group. Our secretariat will start work on this from April or May of this year,” disclosed Caitano.
The India U-17 team is coached by coach Bibiano Fernandes, whose success with youngsters is established. Bibiano does not care about which state a player comes from because he keeps the overall picture of football in the country in mind when picking the best.
How players make it to the team lies in the hands of teams, players, their parents and the state football associations they represent.