Did you know that the third oldest football tournament in the world is played in India? That one Indian club is older than FIFA? And yes, India did make it into the World Cup once but never actually participated! Can you believe that the Indian national team once would play against the likes of Iran, South Korea and come up with decent results?
So what went wrong? Why are we 133rd in the latest FIFA Rankings? Why have we, as a nation, lost the appetite to achieve success in the world of football, which is truly a ‘world’ sport.
As delve into the reasons, which are numerous to say the least, one of the primaries is the lack of a common vision as almost everyone is moving in different directions, if at all they are. It’s like having a body where the individual has no control whatsoever with the hands, legs and every part behaving the way it wants which thus creates an incompatible situation leading to no progress or even the belief that it can.
Amongst all the bedlam, there is one individual who is working against all the gobbledygook forces who have absolutely no intention to see the country achieve something in the beautiful game. (Yes, all of us have the authority to say that). Alright, don’t put your collar flaps up in pride that you have guessed the name right! He is probably one of the few right things in Indian football – Robert Douglas Houghton or affectionately known as Bob Houghton.
And we ask him point blank whether it’s the lack of a common vision which haunts Indian football as an entity given that none of the constituents that form it, work on the same page.
“Anyone who believes in the future of Indian football would agree that the way forward is to qualify for the World Cup and everyone must put their weight behind it. Why are we ranked 133 in the world? As we don’t work together, which is obviously, what even Colaco (AIFF general secretary) mentioned it earlier to you and I believe it is true,” said Houghton, who is known for his no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-his style with words which are concrete, powerful and pointed.
If you have attended some of those famous Personality Development courses, which I have in plenty out of sheer inquisition, they would bombard you with their ‘planning’ techniques, something which everyone is aware of but feels as if it’s a novel idea which is being given to them thanks to the packaging with all the PowerPoint presentations! You need to plan and then have an execution plan which is what Houghton shares with us in order to give India the ‘best possible chance’ of making it into the biggest football extravaganza on earth.
“The important thing is of course to develop the young players as without it, we can’t get to the World Cup. Logically speaking, I believe 2018 seems a realistic target for us,” Houghton speaks with the confidence of a man which T.S.Elliot refers in:
“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far we can go.”
Speaking of the qualification to the World Cup, Houghton discusses the path to qualification and mentions how important it is to make it into the final 10 elite list.
“To start with, there are like 50 teams which are then cut down to 40 and which then again, becomes 20 during the World Cup qualification process in Asia. Thereafter, its ten teams left with two groups of five each from which four teams qualify for the World Cup and one gets to play the play-off with New Zealand.
“For us to have a chance of qualifying, we need to be competitive to be in the final 10 teams. Now of course, for that you needn’t be seeded in the top 10 as Korea DPR weren’t.
“The boys which Colin Toal had, is a good group of boys and we plan to keep them together for the next four years until the qualification begins. Along with them, we would have the younger ones from the current Asian Cup team. Add to that, we might pick some exceptional boys from our next U-19 team as well.
“If you set 2018 World Cup as your target with the hope of making it into the final 10 for which the qualification begins only in 2015 with this team, this could give us the best possible chance,” highlighted the Englishman.
The issue of keeping the former U-19 boys together with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) managing it has got mixed reviews from different quarters with many clubs refusing to budge by stating that they won’t in any case allow their players to join the national set-up, which would work in the I-League. The former coach of Uzbekistan, and I refer that country as he almost took them into the World Cup, reasons the need to come with this ‘unusual’ plan as it’s more of an essential than merely for vanity.
“The problem is that when these U-19 boys leave the national set-up, they don’t get an opportunity to play. Here we take 24 boys and allow them to play. We will appoint a good coach which shall be announced shortly with the support staff which Colin Toal had for the U-19. We will give them good training facilities, nutrition and all the other things that are needed which they don’t get it at the clubs.
“I have heard that some clubs don’t want to make their players available, which I think they should as they will play regularly here. The AIFF has no intention of running a club, there is lots of work already. The idea is to develop young players,” said the 62 year old putting his years of experience across several continents at various levels to use which gives him enough credibility.
While one may cite several instances to prove that the model planned is an unusual one, but it’s the most rebellious ideas which break the existent parameters and thereby, bring about a change in the thought process which is eventually seen in actions. Even Madonna wouldn’t have been a ‘Madonna’ if she didn’t come up with ‘Papa don’t preach’ lyrics.
“I wouldn’t have turned out the way I was if I didn’t have those old-fashioned values to rebel against.”
Houghton accepts that the plan is nonconforming but given the current state of football in India, a revolution of all sorts is needed.
“It is an unusual way but let’s accept it. Football has been around in this country for more than a 100 years. We are not any way near the World Cup qualification, ranked 133 and we haven’t moved a great deal forward in all these years. There hasn’t been a great deal of effort in developing players.
“Colin Toal mentioned to me that in Kolkata, there is no U-14, U-16 and U-19 league and we are talking about the hub of Indian football.
“You have to look at the big picture and ensure that the I-League produces players, that the national team gets to play together. In the last four years, everyone has been trying to bring the I-League up to a certain level so that it reaches the level of a J-League or a K-League. But the clubs haven’t fulfilled the AFC Club licensing criteria and this haunts the progress,” explained Houghton.
Well...Well.. .So Folks, does it mean that India has to wait till 2018 to have players like Kaka, Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in our squad? Does it simply that only in 2018, we will have the Indian fans waving the Indian Tricolour, or dancing by beating drums, or waving their T-Shirts with India written on it, in the stadium when India scores a goal against Brazil, or have Mallika Sherawat perform some Indian Kuchipudi Or Kathakali singing “This time for India” !!!???!!!
“Let’s be realistic. We got to adjust our system and move on”, this is what Bob has to say...!