Former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia today said the lack of top-class infrastructure still remains an impediment to the development of football in the country, while AIFF president Praful Patel lamented the absence of enough money in sports other than cricket.
Considered the torchbearer of Indian football during his playing days, Bhutia felt while avenues have opened up now lot can still be done in the area of infrastructure.
“In my time I only played one U-16 national tournament, besides the Subroto Cup. Somebody like IM Vijayan has never played in any age-group tournament. But now, there are many opportunities for the youngsters to come through the ranks,” Bhutia said.
The ‘Sikkimese Sniper’ was in the Capital alongside stalwarts of Indian football like Vijayan, Jo Paul Ancheri and Bruno Coutinho, for the launch of the book titled ‘Back to The Roots, A Definitive Guide to Grassroots and Football Development, penned by Shaji Prabhakaran, FIFA Regional Development Officer (South and Central Asia).
India’s all-time leading scorer in international football till he was bettered by Sunil Chhetri, Bhutia further said, “While the opportunities are there, infrastructure is still not at that level. For that state associations must work with the state governments, the government and the federation.”
Patel felt while they have come a long way as far as infrastructure is concerned, lack of enough money remains a issue.
“We have good grounds, we have just got the FIFA to approve six stadiums for next year’s U-17 World Cup and we also got six stadiums approved as stand-bys. We have to see the larger picture. The issue is where is the money, there is no money in Indian sports apart from cricket. No money in hockey, certainly not in football and other Olympic sports.
“However, in-spite of all this, I would say things are moving in the right directions and it’s not as bad as it was a few years ago,” All India Football Federation (AIFF) chief Patel said during a panel discussion on the occasion, which was also attended by former hockey captain Viren Rasquinha.
Asked about the performance of the Indian team in BRICS U-16 Tournament held recently, Bhutia said it was important to get the desired results.
“They played well but need to get results as well. They were a bit unlucky with results and should have won against China. In the U-17 World Cup, if we can give a very good performance and get one or two results it will be good.”
About the possibility of a merger between I-League and Indian Super League (ISL), Bhutia, who will be turning 40 next month, said, “I feel the league should be of seven months, otherwise a lot of players are left unemployed, players like Climax (Lawrence) and Clifford (Miranda) — both former India players. We should be looking at having a seven-month league.”
AIFF secretary Kushal Das, when asked about the ISL-I-League merger, said it will be known only in March-April if it is implemented.