Cricket fans watched in dismay and disbelief as their revered Team India, a team no one thought could be beaten, went down meekly to Australia, shattering a billion dreams. And, that the defeat came after the team had shattered all-possible records on the way to the final, was unfathomable.
But, the dreadful has happened and Team India and its fans will have to come to terms with it and come back stronger when the stage is set for the next World Cup. Until such time, it will hurt and will be very difficult to accept the fact that when we were the best, we choked at the final hurdle.
While we glorify cricket and cricket stars, to the extent that our commitment to the game revolves around our daily lives, we fail to realise that this game has attained a cult status, so much so that we have forgotten that there exist other sports besides cricket.
While this country of 1.4 billion people has deservedly produced a world-beating cricket team, it has failed to produce a decent football team, despite there being so much talent available. The only thing that’s needed is to harness that talent.
So, when former Arsenal Manager and FIFA Global Football Development Chief Arsene Wenger said it was impossible for a country like India with 1.4 billion people not to be on the football world map, it came as no surprise.
However, what Wenger said should lead us to introspect as to why we are not where we have to be. The reality is – and we all know it – we never attempted to nurture the sport from the grassroots level. Even if we claim we did, all the attempts were half-baked and mired in red tapism.
There is loads of talent in this country and there is no denying that. Let us not go very far, look at the three states of Goa, Kerala and Bengal – the powerhouses of football. There is talent here which is waiting to be picked up, trained and presented to the world.
But, we will need a dream bigger than our desire or vice versa in this pursuit. So, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and identify where we were failing. The plan we need should be a grassroots-oriented one and not one that flows from the top where every plan is hijacked.
It is time to identify those who have been working against football, but all the time making it seem that they were for it. It will be like clearing the dirt from the mirror before we actually see our true selves in there.
Football, one should know, is not only about kicking the ball on the ground. It is about knowing the game, its technicalities, skills and how to preserve your endurance for 90 minutes of kicking and running.
The players should know about the ball they are kicking and trapping. They should learn about its technical aspects and the energies that are let go when the ball is kicked. Even the senior-most players, who represent India, are exposed when it comes to trapping the ball when it is passed to them.
The other area where Indian players are weak is in keeping the ball glued to the ground. The ground passing is something they just can’t get the hang of. All these aspects need proper training from international-calibre coaches and not leftovers that are brought in from foreign shores.
Coaches will not be able to make a difference when someone starts playing football at the age of 26. The right talent has to be nurtured between the ages of 12 and 16. A player reaches his prime when he is 26, the age when he develops the skills and temperament to be a good player.
In Goa, we have the talent, but let us accept the fact that we also have too much of politics that is taking the game nowhere.
The Goa Football Development Council was formed with the avowed objective of developing football at the grassroots, but this body has nothing worthwhile to show in terms of performance. All that it has been good at is the distribution of kits.
Our dirty politics, our egos and our lack of vision are not helping the game of football. If we think India beating Kuwait 1-0 in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match is something to be proud of, there is much work to be done before we start competing with European football.