New Delhi: Former football captain Shabbir Ali feels the key to raising the game`s profile in India and making the national team an Asian force lies in spreading it to the untapped areas of the country.
Shabbir, who scored 35 international goals in his glittering India career in the late 1970s and early 1980s, said all the states in the country should have their own leagues. He also spoke about the importance of tournaments like Santosh Trophy as a platform for scouting talent.
"We need to focus on the grassroot development to groom the talent from a young age. All the states should have state leagues. All the clubs should have proper youth development. We also have to give importance to Santosh Trophy because many talented players come up from tournaments like these," Shabbir told PTI.
"The federation (AIFF) is doing its best but I feel they should do more and focus on these critical issues. The government should also play a bigger role in the development of not only football but all other sports," he added.
He said talent scouting from areas outside traditional football bases would be vital for the development of the game in the country.
"I-League is played in a few states. Bengal, Goa and Northeastern states are doing well but what about talented players from other states like Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh? India is a vast country and many talented players can come up from untapped areas if they are given proper facilities and training," he said.
"We have to spread the game in other states and scout the talent from non-traditional football areas and groom them," said Shabbir who coached Bengal to two Santosh Trophy triumphs, besides coaching stints at Mohammedan Sporting and Salgaocar.
The 58-year-old said India should first think of competing at the Asian level before aiming for the World Cup.
"We have to think of Asia first. We played in the Asian Cup in 2011 for the first time after 27 years. That was a good thing," said the prolific former striker.
"We have to be competitive at the Asian Level. Most of the Asian countries have improved but not us. So we have to do more and try to catch them up," Shabbir said.
He acknowledged the difficulty on the part of All India Football Federation to arrange many international matches against other countries but felt that the national team needs exposure and regular competition to be able to compete against top sides of Asia.
"I understand that it is very costly to arrange international friendlies. The AIFF is trying hard in this respect but the number of matches is not sufficient due to lack of money.
"But the national team can only improve through continuous exposure and regular competitions. During our times, we played some other tournaments like Merdeka Cup."
Asked whether the 2017 Under-17 World Cup would be the turning point for Indian football, he said, "It`s good for Indian football that we are hosting the tournament. But we have to utilise it for the good of Indian football.
On the much-anticipated Indian Super League scheduled to be held later this year, he said, "We have to see. If it (ISL) turns out successful then it will be be beneficial for Indian football.
"Leagues in other sports like IPL in cricket, Indian Badminton League and Hockey India League have helped in raising the profile of these games," said Shabbir who spent 12 years of his club career with Mohammedan Sporting.
Asked which style of football India should play, Shhabir said, "We cannot have a fix system. Playing style will have to be adjusted according to the players you have and the opposition.
"We have to able to play in two-three formations according to the team we face. The same is in case of playing style also. We have to able to play short passing and other way round (long ball) also."