For about a year now,26 teenagers,all born in the year 2000,have been camping together at the All India Football Federations (AIFFs) elite academy in Goa. These talented junior footballers have been marked out as potential participants in the 2017 under-17 World Cup,the hosting rights of which India won this week.
The tournament will be a rare outing for the countrys footballers at a big ticket FIFA event,and the AIFF is keen to make a good first impression before a global television audience. It has worked out a five-year plan with the focus on the chosen youngsters.
Scott ODonell,the technical director of AIFF academies,said training the existing batch and widening the player pool is their priority. We have identified 26 players born in 2000 from the National Championships held last year in Kalyani in West Bengal. These boys have been training in Goa since February 1 this year.
They represented India in the u-14 AFC Championships in Iran,where they won two matches and lost two. We have identified more players from the National Championships this year and are planning to call them in early next year, said the Australian.
At the u-14 tournament at Mashhad,midfielder Ajay Anthony was praised by the Iranian media for his ability to hold the ball and dictate play. The cohesion that comes from practising together the entire year made India the standout team in the tournament of teenagers.
Players from Kerala to Kolkata,Manipur to Mumbai are a part of the select group,being coached by Narayana Menon. Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem of Manipur,the captain of the team,is generally regarded as the best player of the group. Dheeraj is also the only one from the group who is also part of Indias u-16 team.
We evaluate the performance of the players,sending back those who do not do well,and welcome a few new players. But many from this bunch will certainly be there, Menon said.
The last 18 months have seen the AIFF focus on a Catch em young strategy. As part of Lakshya 2022,AIFFs ambitious master plan designed by its technical director,the Dutchman Rob Baan,the federation has established four fully functional residential academies in Mumbai,Goa,Kolkata and Bangalore. A total 133 players from across the country currently train at these football schools. In addition to the regional centres,there is the elite academy in Goa where the batch for 2017 has been training.
ODonell said hosting u-17 World Cup would boost youth development projects. I think we are gradually getting things right. The clubs are starting to realise the importance of having their own youth development programmes. And we at the AIFF will continue to search for talented players across the country to ensure that we give the boys the best possible preparation for the u-17 World Cup in 2017, he said.