New Delhi: Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri on Tuesday said that the country should focus on establishing itself as an Asian power rather than seeking a World Cup qualification in the near future.
Chhetri, who was here to launch a countrywide talent hunt programme, said that India`s first step should be to achieve something major in Asia.
"World Cup is a distant thing. Right now our focus should be on doing something good in Asia. If we set high goals at the moment we are going to get frustrated. So we should first look to do something in our continent. As they say you should take small steps and not rush to the goal," Chhetri said.
Chhetri and former Manchester United player Dwight Yorke launched the talent hunt programme at Under 16 level to be conducted by Bharti Airtel in association with Man United.
The `Airtel Rising Stars` scouting programme will cover 16 cities across India and pick 12 talented footballers to attend a week-long training camp at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, in England.
Chhetri said the initiative will help groom the young footballers in the country.
"The first day when I stepped out to play in Europe (during trials at Celtic in Scotland) I had no clue what was happening. The kind of tackles and the kind of pace at which they play I was really clueless. These kids will get a chance to feel what exactly it takes to play at the top level," he said.
"It is a great opportunity for the young kids. They are around 14-15 years and to get an opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the best ... It is going to be a great learning curve for them," Chhetri said.
"At my time we did not have that many opportunities and with guys like Dwight (Yorke) motivating the youngsters, it is definitely going to be a great experience," he added.
Yorke, a former Trinidad and Tobago World Cupper and current assistant coach of the Manchester United`s reserve side, said it would be a lifetime experience for the young players.
"It is a great opportunity for the kids to excel in the sport of football. They will get an opportunity to see Manchester United from the close quarters, gain experience, get in touch with the some of the top footballers across the world ... It is once in a lifetime opportunity," said the Caribbean footballer.
"When I started as a 16-year-old kid the conditions were pretty much the same in my country, the facilities were horrendous. Opportunity came my way through Aston Villa and I seized that opportunity. If I made it to the top level there is no reason why an Indian footballer could not make it to the highest level. It is just the matter of getting an opportunity and making the right initiative," he said.
Asked whether the seven-day training camp would be too short to be of any help to the aspiring footballers, Yorke said, "You have to start from somewhere. You will never get it right at the first attempt. But it is not a small initiative. It is going to be a long association, you get to start somewhere. There is always going to be a question mark, but we are here for five years."
"To see India playing in the World Cup one day, that is going to be the dream and with the support from the AIFF and the government we will see Indian players playing at the top level," Yorke insisted.
First Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2012, 17:23