By Joydeep Sanyal:
The name Bhangra Boys given to a largely cosmopolitan squad representing a highly diverse nation typically exemplifies the misplaced strategies and short term visions which have been implemented with an aim to make India one of Asia’s footballing giants. Not that the tag “Bhangra Boys” is offensive or it ridicules the entire nation but in a squad embedded with players hailing from the fertile plains of Bengal to the hilly areas of Manipur and North East, from the paradise called Kashmir to as much south as Kerela, the tag certainly does not do justice to the “Unity In Diversity” essence of the nation.
But this was definitely not my main worry when we are ranked a lowly 145 in the latest FIFA rankings. Five years ago in 2006, we were actually ranked better at around 130. The introduction of Bob Houghton and various exposure trips to Portugal certainly didn’t help India on paper as far as the rankings are considered. A spot in the Asian Cup 2011 cannot be taken as a step in the forward direction as we all know that we got entry into Asia’s biggest footballing competition via the AFC Challenge Cup. So a major question against comes to my mind: Has Indian Football really awoken from its deep slumber? Or is it another one of the many media-hyped, self-publicized issues?
If any knowledgeable football fan starts looking for its answer, they will no doubt conclude that Indian football is still totally in shambles. The main reason is definitely not the infrastructure or the poor sporting culture but the lack of skilled players. There are stories that Pele played with a cotton ball during his childhood days and yet Brazil has produced some of the best footballers in the world. Although skill is something which is either to be developed or to be born with, I believe that in a nation with a billion people, resources are aplenty but yet to be exploited. With probably no organized sporting culture in schools and colleges, tapping of unexplored gems in the field of sports is a big issue. Secondly , football is a highly challenging and physical game which requires extremely superb levels of stamina and strength. Unfortunately neither do we have such traits in our genes, neither is it developed to a huge extent. As a result , most Indian football players are only fit for 70 minutes of the game which is a known fact.
Coming to Bob Houghton, the debate is still on as to whether he actually developed Indian football. In terms of results, he delivered a very promising period to Indian football. But was it enough? Have we jumped from the bottom rung to the middle rung after all these years? A big No. But Bob can never be blamed solely when we all know the way the sports federation functions, generally headed by the busiest politicians with the sole aim to garner more power and launch further diktat on people. Further poor planning from the Federation to send the team to a month long preparatory camp to Portugal when the Cup was to be held in the deserts of Middle East can be hardly justified. If results are everything then some thrashing at the hands of Oman and others in the friendlies and some really sloppy performance in the Cup puts the debate to rest.
Any solutions to all these problems? There are plenty. But what we are lacking are some iron willed personas in sports management who will lead Indian sports out of doldrums; those who can implement the solutions. Till then we would remain fighting for the scraps.
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