Indian Football Heading Onwards and Upwards
When you might have asked someone in India about football a decade ago, they might have immediately uttered the name, "Baichung Bhutia" or might have simply not said a thing.
How things can change over time.
Today, the English Premier League is watched in thousands of homes every weekend, and football has now become the equivalent of a "Cesc Fabregas" or a "Cristiano Ronaldo" in India.
However as an Indian football fan, this can be good and bad. Good, because the youngsters are actually taking an interest in the game and bad, because the youngsters are following primarily the foreign leagues and players.
Bob Houghton's tenure as coach of the Indian national team has been positive by and large—India have qualified for the Asian Cup in 2011, which could give every Indian player an opportunity to impress clubs like Al-Ahli and Jeonbuk Motors mainly because of the modification of a rule by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
The change means that in every league, each team can field upto four foreign players and one of those must be an Asian. This modification has given a massive opportunity for the likes of Sunil Chettri, Steven Dias, and N.P. Pradeep to move to other Asian clubs and ply their trade, thereby gaining a lot more experience and help India progress in the future.
Over the past couple of years, the likes of Arsenal and Wolverhampton Wanderers have tried to set up links with clubs in India, with Manchester United also keen to set up such links.
But Baichung Bhutia, who has had spells with Bury in England and Perak in Malaysia, feels that these tie-ups might not necessarily have a positive effect on Indian football:
"Teams like Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have been regularly going to Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore for the past 10 years. There is nothing new in it. Their presence did not help football (there) in any way there." Bhaichung said.
"India has to be very careful in dealing with them," the Mohun Bagan striker warned.
"People working on the Indian side in these joint ventures will have to be careful. We must see to it that we don’t lose out in the process. Their (foreign clubs’) marketing strategy is always very sharp," Bhaichung added.
"These tie-ups should help our football as well, it should be a win-win situation,” he concluded.
Bhutia does have a point—India can be seen as a lucrative market to attract viewers, but the fact is that football has to be brought into the equation at some time. Top clubs cannot take Indian clubs for a ride, and joint ventures should be mutually beneficial.
Having said that, Barcelona have set up a training facility in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh and Joan Laporta visited Barcelona FC's Bathlapalli academy in the Ananthpur district.
This training facility currently operates with a 100 children, aged between 6 and 16 years. It also includes two classrooms, a computer labratory, two dressing rooms for the children, a staff room, restrooms and a store.
For a centre which was only inaugurated in February 2008, this is very good progress indeed.
Laporta told reporters that he was pleased about the progress of Barcelona's social initiatives and even said that he would be happy if the children currently in the training centre could go on to represent Barcelona in the future:
"It's our contribution to the social integration of some of the most disadvantaged children. We aim to provide education in computer science, English and mathematics. We also provide sports training and nutrition. We're using football as a tool to better the lives of the less fortunate. If there's a very talented child here then we'll help him or her in every way we can," said Laporta.
The main reason for Laporta's trip was to lay the foundation stone for a second such training academy in Atmakur, which could hold up to 100 children when it is operational.
With such foreign collaborations bearing fruit in India, it is difficult to see how scouts will not find any talented players in the future. Former French international, Vikash Dhorasoo is also going to start a FIFA initiative to improve football in India - and that can only mean good things for Indian football.
Indian football is certainly on the rise, and with foreign clubs teaming up with clubs in India or starting social initiative programs, things can only go onwards and upwards for India after having qualified for the Asia Cup in 2011.
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