India needs good football pitches: British expert
New Delhi: Every overseas visiting football expert has a tip or two for the development of the game at the grassroots level in India. Now a technical official of an English Premier League (EPL) side Queens Park Rangers (QPR) has come up with one - that skills can only be honed on well-tended turfs and there was a "crying need for good pitches" in India.
QPR Youth Development Manager Steve Gallen believes if India has to become a football powerhouse in the region, to start with the grounds need to be evenly grassed. He however sees improvement in Indian football with better and more technically competent players.
Gallen, who is in Mumbai for the third edition of the five-a-side South Mumbai Soccer Challenge -- a talent hunt programme for South Mumbai schoolboys and girls in the 8-10, 10-12 and 12-14 age groups, initiated by QPR in collaboration with Congress MP Milind Deora and Saran Sports -- feels turfs in India were not conducive for football.
"India needs radical changes, besides infrastructure, there is a crying need for good pitches. If the turfs are of standard then the pool of talent will automatically swell and with it the quality of football," Gallen said.
The man who spent 15 years with the West London club though is happy to see the fast-changing football scene in India over the last three years. He says the players he has seen this time around are better than the crop in the two previous stints of his.
"Players are better, technically they possess good ball control and passing skills. Youngsters are more energetic and have better understanding of the game."
The face of football is changing in India, a cricket-crazy country is finally opening up to the beautiful game. Many European giants are keenly watching the football boom in India and exploring the possibility of associating with its promotion. However, the standard of football itself has not improved much.
India is steadily sliding in the FIFA pecking order. The downfall of the two-time Asian Games Champions is largely due to a lack of planning and investment. From a high of 95th position in 1995, the Indians are currently ranked 162nd.
The slump, he says, is not due to any alarming falling standards here, but because the other countries have grown phenomenally whereas India has stagnated.
"India has remained where they were 10 years back, while other countries have improved tremendously."
"There is no reason why Indians cannot compete at the highest level, it will take time. Football players do not have to be 6 ft 5 inches anymore, look at Messi, the world`s greatest player is 5 ft7 inches. The only thing holding the Indian players back is the lack of proper facilities."
Talking of QPR`s return to the Premier League this season after 15 years, Gallen said: "Last year was fantastic, we deserved to be promoted, but our players still lack experience to play at the top level. They will change soon, right now our focus is on staying in the Premier League."
Gallen has an ambition, setting up a football academy here.
"Personally, I will do anything to help, I love India. Eventually, I would like to have an academy here."