Former Indian football captain Baichung Bhutia believes that the Indian football team can be among the top 10 teams of Asia in the next 10 -15 years if junior teams are developed today. He was in Kolkata at a Walk For a Cause media conference as a goodwill ambassador and was happy to share his views on the current state of Indian football.
In a statement, he said, “Through the under-15, under-17, we are going to develop so that within the next 10 to 15 years we can be in one of the top 10 teams in Asia. Let’s not talk about the World Cup and be unrealistic. We are now spending on the youth, at the moment we should give strong support, money to grassroot development.”
Bhutia complimented India’s National Head Coach Stephen Constantine on bringing in new blood into the team and recently winning the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup. India beat Afghanistan to win its seventh SAFF Cup and this effort must be particularly commended as it came after the drubbing India experienced in the World Cup qualifiers where it lost five of the six 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
According to Bhutia, the Indian team went into the qualifiers underprepared and was also slotted into a very difficult group. Bhutia believes that the Indian team can go to a whole new level in the coming years and believes that training camps will play a huge role in India’s success. He also advised that the current Indian coach must be given sufficient time to train his set of players before expecting better results.
The former captain believes that for Indian football to do well, the national team must do well. Without that happening, other initiatives like I-League nor Indian Super League (ISL) would not have a very big impact in India.
Bhutia also shared his thoughts on the I-League which he considered important for Indian football but didn’t find the league’s recent performance very encouraging. He said that while the competition and standards have improved, it has failed to appeal to general viewers.
The I-League is a critical tournament since the winner gets an opportunity to play in the Asian Football Confederation Cup (AFC) and so he urged the clubs and the federation support it. He further added that clubs from Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir could possibly be included in the I-League next year.
Bhutia was more positive on the impact of ISL on Indian public and Indian football as a whole. The ISL according to Bhutia is popularising the game and getting more Indians interested in football as evidenced by the fact that “parents are now encouraging their kids to play football after watching the league.”