Is our football moving in the right direction?
No, it’s not. Because half the states in our country do not have a soccer league. Football is confined to only a few states. Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar don’t even have a league. How can one expect the game to improve if only Bengal and Goa are playing? If you look at the history of Hyderabad, Kerala, Punjab and Bengal, a lot of footballers played for the country; they played for pride. We are not moving in the right direction. We might be beating Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal but this is not enough. We make no headway in the Asian Games or the Asia Cup. We have no plan to develop young talent. No club has its own academy. What Mohun Bagan runs is not an academy; it’s only a training centre.
Do you feel big international clubs coming to India will improve Indian football?
May be. Since they are big names in world football a new breed of footballers might be attracted by their presence. But Indian football will rise only when clubs run academies to nurture young talent. I feel the
foreign clubs are targeting the Indian market to sell their merchandise. In the last ten years, I have heard that big clubs like Liverpool and Everton are coming to India. They are not coming to open an academy and develop Indian football. They are coming just to popularise themselves in the Indian market. When these clubs went to places like Korea and China they got some footballers who could play for their club but when they come to India they don’t find any talent here.
FIFA has Vision 2020 for Indian football. Don’t you feel it will help us?
(Laughs) When you don’t have planning for 2012, what will you do with vision 2018 or 2020? You don’t have proper planning. You don’t have proper preparation. You don’t have proper coaches. Things can’t change. Indian football has hit a dead-end. Why are all the coaches from Goa?
Is the coach selection process faulty then?
No, I’m not saying that. But why are all the coaches from Goa? Why not from Bengal? Didn’t we play for the nation? Didn’t we coach teams? I’ve been named a leading coach in Asia, but I am not allowed to coach the national team. Manipulation is going on. It should stop immediately. With this kind of dishonesty, you can’t develop. Favouritism is India football’s bane.
Can you give more examples of manipulation?
Why is a retired so-called icon allowed to play against Bayern Munich? Is he a footballer? I don’t think so. I have seen Inder Singh and Parminder Singh. I have seen Nicholas Pereira. I have seen Subhas Bhowmik. He talks to everybody for himself. Why is he getting such special treatment? After retirement why was he recommended to play the Bayern Munich match?
So you feel Baichung Bhutia was undeserving of all the media hype?
He knows how to cash in on the media. Not only in Kolkata but all over India he is doing just that. This has been going on for a long time. How will Indian football ever improve?
So you agree with former national coach Syed Naeemuddin that Bhutia should have retired much earlier?
Definitely. I agree with him. He should have retired four or five years ago. In the last two years of his international career, he didn’t play. People give him unnecessary importance. He will tell you that somebody is good and somebody is not. Why take his word?
How do you rate the present Indian coach Savio Medeira?
See, he has given results in the SAFF championship. Once you have given him a chance, let him continue. We should encourage him. We should give him more time. He should be given two years’ time. Houghton was given more time and he didn’t do anything. Savio should also be given as much time as his predecessors.
Are you against foreign coaches?
No, not at all. But we should bring reputed foreign coaches who can deliver better results, not like what Bob Houghton gave. In 15 to 16 years, around 28 foreign coaches came for different clubs but no one was successful. You know why Baichung prefers foreign coaches? He doesn’t want any Indian footballer to
become more popular than him.
How do you rate Sunil Chhetri?
I rate him much higher than Baichung Bhutia. He is very sincere. He can control the ball. He is really
better than Bhutia. Let him become more mature. He is really a very good footballer.
Do you really feel that Baichung Bhutia harmed Indian football?
Yes. He really did. If you go to Bengal, there are many footballers who play better than him and have better knowledge than him. So why should you give his word so much weight?
Do you feel the National League is doing well?
Not at all. The standard of the National League is deteriorating by the day. The time has come for action. Only a few states are playing: three clubs from Goa, three clubs from Bengal. At this rate, the league will soon become redundant.
What should Indian footballers do to match international players?
They can’t be of international standard if they are not participating in the European and South American leagues. We need footballers who can play with the world’s best. The African players play in important leagues. If we set up better academies, we might, in four-five years, produce such footballers in India.
If our football doesn’t improve, will our passion for major international leagues and the World Cup remain intact?
We love football. There are big stars in these leagues, so we love to watch them. But we need our own stars who can entertain us. When Kishen was playing from Mohun Bagan and East Bengal people used to come to watch matches.
How can we create a market for football?
At present it is very difficult. Corporates of all sectors should come forward to promote football. But in the present scenario it is very difficult to impress the corporates. In fact, established individuals should also come forward to help football. I had requested Sahara to help me in establishing an academy. I wanted Rs 12 crore for five years but they spent much more than that in a much lesser period but they didn’t approve my proposal. Corporates should come forward and give the job to a senior footballer. If he doesn’t deliver, hand over the reins to somebody else.
Can you tell us the exact difference between your era and the present one?
Football has changed considerably because so many foreign footballers have come to India. In our time hardly any foreign footballer played here. In our time there was a lot of talent but at present very little talent is available except a handful of players like Syed Rahim Nabi, Sunil Chhetri, and two to three more.
When did the decline start?
In the 1950s and 1960s, we were quite strong. But there was no proper planning to maintain that momentum. The lack of planning cost us dear. Now there is a financial crisis. There is a social crisis too. Parents don’t want their children to take up football. Till the 1970s, there were many Indian footballers who had mass appeal. People would come to watch them play. A stadium would be jam-packed. Today hardly 3000 to 4000 spectators turn up for a game. Among present footballers, except Sunil Chhetri, no one can dribble the ball well. We need more Sunil Chhetris to come and play for India so that our football can rise and get the same attention which it used to get.
What are your plans for the future?
I am going to start my academy next May. I will follow my old style of football. Apart from that I will use different coaching methods. Talk to me five years later. You will see what I am capable of doing.
Is spending time in a gym really necessary for a footballer?
Yes it is important. Workouts and swimming are important. But it should be done with a physical instructor. It develops muscle power and coordination. Had a player like Inder Singh received this kind of training, he would have played the English Premier League.
Bob Houghton said we need taller players. What is more important – height or talent?
I can name many players who were not tall but they were simply magical on the football field. We certainly need talent. But besides that we need healthy players, players who have good muscle power. We can get that if proper training is provided from day one.
Don’t you feel that our selection process is inherently flawed?
The Indian coach Savio Medeira should go to different places where competition is on. He should personally observe the players and talented players from all across the country should be brought to the India trial. And then Team India should be selected from this trial.
What do you feel about India’s recent wins in the Nehru Cup, AFC and SAFF championship?
It was great. I congratulated Medeira and the footballers. But surprisingly, the Prime Minister did not sent any congratulatory message. In fact, no top leader did so. When the cricket team wins, everybody joins the chorus. This is a sad trend.
Can you name the top footballers of the present era and those of your time?
Chhetri, Nabi and Subrata Paul are the best today. In the past there were Jarnail Singh, Gautam Sarkar, Inder Singh, Xavier Pais and Mohammad Habib.