| NEW DELHI, Sept 13
NEW DELHI, Sept 13 Nobody said it to his face
but when All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful
Patel said last week India's goal was to qualify for the 2022
World Cup finals in Qatar, his sunny optimism bordered on grim
With FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke sitting next to
him, the AIFF chief announced it minutes before signing a
10-year agreement with soccer's governing body to develop the
game in the world's second most populous nation enamoured
otherwise with cricket.
"Indian football is poised for a big leap after a long
period of hibernation," stressed Patel, also the India
government's Heavy Industries minister.
"There's going to be a long time before India truly comes up
to the expectations of the football-loving community of the
country but one thing I must say is that we are certainly on the
The timing of his remarks could not have been worse, coming
on the same day India slumped to their lowest place, 169th, in
the FIFA rankings.
The sport also remains popular only in certain geographic
areas while the television appetite is restricted to the English
Premier League or Spain's La Liga.
Patel, however, insisted the rankings were not the true
reflection of India's team, who beat a second-string Cameroon
team to win a five-nation tournament earlier this month and he
remained optimistic FIFA's support would help develop the game.
Valcke also sounded convinced of soccer's potential in
"You are 1.2 billion people and it's impossible that 1.2
billion people are just playing cricket. There is definite space
for football," Valcke said.
Lack of infrastructure, a struggling national league, low
television viewership and scant sponsorship mean it's easier
said than done, according to a local soccer author.
"I think it was a populist statement," said Jaydeep Basu, who
has authored "Stories From Indian Football", an anecdotal
history of the game in the country.
"India rank 32nd in Asia and the immediate goal should have
been to be among the top 10 in the continent which would ensure
a better draw in international tournaments.
"You have a struggling national league and a pool of less
than 90 Indian players to choose your national team from - so
much for a country of 1.2 billion!
"In a vast country like ours, you need 50,000 'C' licence
coaches but you have only 2500. Only 12 of the 32 states have a
proper local league.
"If you can solve all these problems and qualify for 2022
World Cup, you (have) got to be a genius," Basu said.
He added the country needed to strengthen the domestic
competitions in all the states and improve training for children
if it is to repeat the feats of the past.
India won Asian Games gold in 1951 and 1962 and finished
runners-up in the 1964 Asian Cup in what is considered the
golden era of Indian soccer.
The game is still popular in some areas and a Mohun Bagan v
East Bengal derby in the eastern metropolitan city of Kolkata
still draws up to 100,000 fans.
Nearly 120,000 fans gave a memorable farewell to Oliver Kahn
in the German goalkeeper's 2008 Bayern Munich swansong in
Kolkata and Argentina great Diego Maradona brought the city to a
standstill during his visit in the same year.
Valcke promised FIFA would do whatever it could to help the
country, which is also bidding to host the 2017 under-17 World
Cup, tap into that potential audience and player pool.
"We in FIFA believe that if there is one country in Asia we
have to focus, it's India," said the FIFA official.
"The best way to promote India would definitely be to
organise the under-17 tournament... We will work with AIFF to
make sure you have the structure to become a player at the
"We are not coming to India because we think that in 10
years' time our money will come from India. We are not looking
for return on investment," stressed Valcke, promising to
consider AIFF's request for 12 more artificial pitches in
addition to the eight already allotted.
Basu said AIFF must make the most of the FIFA investment.
"We missed the bus in the 1970s and cannot afford to err
again. FIFA has indeed gone out of its way to help India and
AIFF needs to make the most of it."
Even then, he felt India would fall well short of the 2022
World Cup target.
"AIFF is day-dreaming," Basu added.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)