Asian Cup could be a watershed for Indian football: Houghton

Updated: Jan 13, 2011, 20:01 PM IST

Doha: Indian football players have been let down by the AIFF`s failure to keep pace with other countries but the Asian Cup participation could prove to be a watershed for the sport in the country, coach Bob Houghton said here on Thursday.

Houghton chose the platform of the pre-match press conference ahead of India`s Group C match tomorrow against Bahrain to highlight the difference between the football development programme in India and other countries.

"In regard to the players, the best example is Renedy Singh. He has played for many years in a country with no football development programme, no infrastructure and poor coaches," Houghton said.

"He (Renedy) is playing the Asian Cup at 32 years of age. He has got to where he is with what`s been at his disposal," Houghton said about Renedy, who addressed the media along with his coach ahead of tomorrow`s match.

"When he (Renedy) was a U-19 player against Japan (in late 1990s), the two teams couldn`t be differentiated. Five years later, the difference had become huge and that was because of J-League (in Japan) and the excellent infrastructure there. The players have been let down by the
AIFF," said the 63-year-old Englishman.

Houghton said the Asian Cup participation and some new developments in India, including a 15-year USD 700 million sponsorship deal (with IMG-Reliance), could see the beginning of a new era.

"We hope Asian Cup will be a watershed. We have a new president, new general secretary, new sponsors on board making a significant impact. I hope this will be the start of Indian football`s rise," he said. Renedy highlighted the acute lack of infrastructure in India but said with Houghton at helm the last four years have seen improvement in football standard.

"What the coach said, it`s really true. It is very difficult in India as there is no infrastructure. In the last three-four years, we have started going in the right direction. We can improve if he (Houghton) is here," said the
31-year-old midfielder.

Talking about India`s match against Bahrain tomorrow, Houghton said, "We shouldn`t underestimate Bahrain. They are seventh ranked team in Asia. They are consistent. It is a big game for us. We have to be in proper mental frame of mind and achieve what we want to.

"It`s great for India to be at the continental level. While a lot of Indians are watching us here, let`s hope there is big interest back home in India as well."

Houghton defended the selection of captain Bhaichung Bhutia in the 23-member squad despite his calf injury.

"Bhaichung is the leader and a huge influence on and off the field. He is a very good player by Indian standards if he is fit. He is the only player to have played 100 matches for India. He lifts the team by his presence on the field. So, it was worth taking the gamble and include him," said