A good show in the biennial event will not only grab global attention but also provide the much-needed fillip to the game in the country.
2017 FIFA U-17 world cup has been tipped to bring football revolution in India. A good show in the biennial event will not only grab global attention but also provide the much-needed fillip to the game in the country. With an eye to field a competitive side for next year’s under-17 World Cup, football scouts have been tracking a clutch of exciting young players from unexpected shores. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is poaching NRIs who hold Indian passports for the World Cup through an online portal https://www.scouting.the-aiff.com, which was launched in September in collaboration with Sports Authority of India (SAI). In three simple steps, an aspiring player who is settled abroad can upload his video from a competitive match on the portal. And if the two-minute clip impresses the scouts, he will be invited for a tryout with the U-17 squad. So far, four players have been identified through the portal, with the AIFF reluctant to reveal their identities until the process is complete. Notably, government regulations do not allow those categorised as PIOs (Persons of Indian Origin) or OCIs (Overseas Citizen of India), who do not hold Indian passports, to represent the country. And, India has never had a systematic process to scout players.
But earlier this year, the AIFF named former India captain Abhishek Yadav as its director of scouting, who travelled across the country with his small team and watched approximately 20,000 players. The list was whittled down after several rounds of screening and eventually, four were shortlisted from within the country. Subsequently, the AIFF cast its net outside by holding a scouting programme in the Middle East, followed by the launch of the portal. “When we did that, we were asked if there was a paucity of talent in India that we had to go abroad. But my point is, they are all Indians. They just happen to live outside India. And, it’s not that we are depending only on players abroad,” says Yadav, who designed the project. The portal has attracted around 30 entries from Indians settled in the USA, Ghana, Germany, Hong Kong and even Poland.
According to an Indian Express report, AIFF’s scouts look at a few specific aspects. For instance, footballers with a good left foot are given more attention since there are few such players in the country. Speed and strength are the two other musts. “We aren’t expecting to find a complete player but he should have at least one footballing quality that stands out,” Yadav said. For instance, a tall player from New Jersey with exceptional defending abilities for a player of his age and strong on both feet has caught the scouts’ attention. “The way he steals the ball from the strikers reminded me of (former India defender) Mahesh Gawli. Only he could do it so cleanly in India,” he said.
“What I expect is that they will be more mature in terms of footballing knowledge. The number of matches in their season is much more than what Indians play,” he said. According to Yadav, identifying players is just one part of the job. Convincing their parents is another. During the Dubai scouting project, Yadav came across an “exceptional talent” but his parents — both work for multinational firms — had different plans for him.
Similarly, the New Jersey-based teenager is so good in studies, that Yadav fears he might not get the consent of his parents because of the age-old ‘studies-first’ approach. But then, there are some who have been willing to relocate. “A Punjabi family from Germany was keen to give up its German passports and return to India so that the son could play for the U-17 team. But then, there is a lot more we have to think of — stay, schooling. everything.”
There was another video entry from the USA that excited the scouts, of a 6-ft tall, 15-year-old defender. However, with his mother born in Ahmedabad and father an American, he didn’t have an Indian passport.
For the moment, the focus is only on the U-17 World Cup. Once that’s done in October next year, the portal will be opened for all age groups, including the senior team. The sports ministry has also decided to copy the format for other sports.