All that is wrong with India’s approach to football

One of the biggest obstacles for football’s quality to develop in India doesn’t only restrict at the popularity of the sport. In fact, it has a proud football culture connected to it since 1870s.

Ask any basal Mohun Bagan fan, and he will easily run your imagination through India’s rich footballing history and tight Kolkata derbies.

Yet, not all is hunky-dory on the field.

Football is a contact sport which demands physique more than technique in learning stages. And we are a squad of 1.3 billion people failing to produce a well built set of players, who can challenge European, South American, or even our South Asian counterparts consistently.

So, it certainly begs the question: Where are we going wrong?

We celebrated ISL thinking it was the cure to our woes, built infrastructure to support it. But six years down the line after its inception, we are seeing its popularity fade increasingly at a faster pace.

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So it is evident that the Indian audience, which can live stream La Liga football on Facebook, having already pledged their loyalties to EPL giants, doesn’t want to buy the tickets to watch below-par ISL and throng the stadiums.

So perhaps, it is time for India’s football think-tank to revisit their methods and approach – as to identify the ailment is a requisite before discovering the cure. Because, by pumping in millions to prop up a football league sans local players, who are good physical specimens, seems as if the Indian football has certainly missed a trick or two.

According to Mike Neary, Head of Manchester United Soccer Schools, it is imperative for the players to be a part of good fitness programme and cultivate a habit of taking in proper nutrition from a very young age. Only this way, he says, it is possible to produce quality players who can be physically ready to have a fit, lengthy and successful career.

“The top players will play morning, noon and night,” he says.

Mike Neary (left) with a player.

“But a lot depends on the environment you are in, the training, family life, how their family helps them get into the training. There are many conditions that can affect the fitness element.”

Other elements which cause hindrance for many young players is lack of awareness to pace their sessions according to the climate, not lack of fitness. The scorching sun and humidity have melted away many a young talents of India, who if, had received a better fitness programme, would have excelled on the international stage, if not at national level.

“It is important to manage intensity of the session and maintain it according to the climate.” Neary said while speaking at the launch of ‘United We Play’ programme in collaboration with Apollo Tyres.

“To make sure that if the kids are training only an hour a week with you [if the climate is unfavourable], make sure that’s a good physical, technical, and mental challenge as well. That they have a positive experience early on is hugely important.”

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And you can’t have a positive experience if you are not fit enough. Many youngsters drop out of the football camps simply because their body cannot adjust to the demanding heat and humidity of the Indian conditions.

Neary says that the results don’t always matter, it is about participating and learning.

“I think if participation can be encouraged as much as possible in the regions here in India then more people will play and get fitter. Nutrition and education helps. We get school children who play a lot and develop good physique. And then it is up to us (coaches) to work on it (technically).”

And that’s what Neary will be talking to Indian coaches this week during his ongoing stint in Mumbai.

Let’s hope Neary comes up with a unique programme specially designed for Indian youngsters and takes it forward.