SO! It’s OFFICIAL now! India will host the 2017 U-17 FIFA World Cup! What a huge opportunity for the country. This is going to be the biggest sporting event that India has hosted on an international scale. Now, you guys (particularly the cricket-crazy Indian sports fans!) might be wondering,” Wait a minute, didn’t India host the ICC Cricket ODI World Cup in 2011, and aren’t they also the hosts for the ICC 2016 T20 Cricket World Cup?!? Surely these events are bigger and harder to organize, right?!”, well, it’s a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ sorta thing. You see, cricket is a pretty big deal in India, no doubt about it, but on a worldwide scale, football( or ‘soccer’ for y’all ‘mericans! ) pretty much dwarfs cricket. Whether it’s in terms of revenue, spectators etc, football is bigger and much more influential. The number of worldwide TV viewers, the average attendance figures in the stadia etc will be at a level never experienced before. An estimated 300 million Indians will be following the event, along with an estimated 600 million television audience. With a population of over 1 billion, there is also a great potential to tap the Indian market through sale of merchandise and services. Stuff like this could forever change the history of the sport in India.
The fact that India is hosting the world cup at the youth level should be noted. This could be very significant in its own development of the sport. Everything starts at the youth level, developing and nurturing talent when it is raw, and guiding it to be the finished product it deserves to become. Youth academies are one of the, if not the, most important part in a young footballer’s career. Just take a look at some of the ‘top’ or ‘big’ football clubs in the world, Barcelona have got ‘La Masia’- they’ve produced arguably the best footballer of this generation in Messi, Manchester United had their famous ‘Class of ‘92’ batch of footballers ,and all of them have acquired legendary status at the club. Similarly, look at Real Madrid, Santos FC, Southampton, Liverpool, Milan (both A.C and Inter), Bayern Munich and the list goes on and on. Each and every one of them puts a lot of emphasis on youth development, it’s, simply put, the way forward. It’s not just the traditional powerhouses of football that do this. The clubs that are owned by billionaires and the ones that aren’t as ‘big’ as their rivals also focus a lot of resources on younger players and their development. For example, Manchester City virtually bought their way to their first Premier League title in 2012, but they have since given a lot of importance and finances to their youth academy, and it’s one of the best in England now. Same goes for Paris St. Germain in France. These clubs are a great example for India, in the sense that even if you start late, and if the effort is put in, then results will inevitably arrive. Nobody is born a star……( Well, maybe Sachin Tendulkar and Leo Messi are exceptions!! )
The under-17 tournament can be the perfect stepping stone for India in so many ways. It will be the first time that India will participate in a football world cup. The senior team can use this as motivation to qualify for the FIFA world cup in the years to come. The younger generation of Indian sports fans can witness a great sporting event and maybe they can gain inspiration to represent their nation one day….
The AIFF ( All India Football Federation ) must start building more youth level academies, conduct more under- 17 and 16 level tournaments, start advertising more, organize more youth camps and just generally give a little more interest towards the ‘lower’ levels of Indian football. The talent, potential and resources are all right there, nobody can say that “ it is a matter of finding the right mix, since the ingredients are available, but rather about finding the right method to mix them and find the right ‘mixer’(if that makes any sense!)”.
In 2012 Sepp Blatter(The then President of FIFA) visited India and called Indian football a ‘sleeping giant’, well, it’s high time that the giant woke up. Indian football is like the ‘Kumbhkarn’( If you don’t know who that is, then I would highly suggest that you google it!!) of the footballing world!! It sleeps for a helluva long time! Let’s just hope that like Kumbhkarn, once football in India awakens it stays wide awake for a long time as well!!