India is the world’s 2nd largest populous state and has one of the biggest cricket fan base around the world. India once was considered as the footballing giants and were one of the most feared sides in Asia. The Indian National Football team had memorable times back in the 1940s to early 1960s. In 1950, Indian Football marked their first major achievement by qualifying in the World Cup finals. This was the first world cup after the Second World War. Although they were added in the World Cup by default because after the havoc and destruction created by the War, big teams like Scotland, France and Czechoslovakia all withdrew from the competition. The celebration was cut short as India weren’t able to meet with the terms set by FIFA. They were not allowed to participate and play barefoot as it was against the rules and regulations. But the actual reason was that AIFF had financial crisis and didn’t fund the Football National team to go and play in The World Cup in Brazil. Moreover, their main focus was on how the team will perform in The Olympics. That was the first and the last time an Indian Football fan could dream to see his/her National Football team play on the grandest stage of all. The post 90s era was the resurgent period for The Indian Tigers where they won SAFF Championships three time in 1993, 1997 and 1999 respectively. They have gone on to win seven SAFF Championships. Here are the 5 reasons why India hasn’t been able to qualify for The FIFA World Cup.
Lack of hunting and nurturing grassroot talent
The Indian Football team has been lacking in the acquiring naturally talented young players. The real drawback of India’s decline through the years has been the negligence towards building academies and poor scouting, over the years. Currently, the situation looks decent as the youngsters are getting call ups for the National side. The most notable of example is our captain fantastic Sunil Chettri, who got all the hype and deserving praises after he was past his 30s. The aim of Indian Football should be able to make 1 million children introduce to the game of football.
Lack of proper tournament structure from the grassroot level
The football league structure in India has been in developing stages and with the introduction of The Indian Super League there has been a rapid increase in the grassroot level leagues below U-19 categories. With all the focus on The I-League since last 2 decades, the various other national league like Santosh Trophy and Durand Cup has lost its significance in The Indian football hierarchy. Despite Subroto Cup and CBSE clusters being one of the major football tournaments at school level for quite a long time, the players haven’t been provided with the much needed support and guidance to succeed as a professional. The only reason cricket has more coverage and fanbase than football in India is because there is more focus on the players right from their academy level. They are made to participate in more competitions at various grassroots level like U-8, U-11 U-13, U-15, U-17 categories respectively. There has been no grassroot system in football in last few decades and with less focus on their skills the players are less confident on the ball and even if they are good enough their poor basics will always let them down. If Indian National Football team wants to qualify for The FIFA World Cup in near future they need to continue heading in the right direction with more players getting exposed to the grassroot programs.
Experimenting with foreign coaches instead of appointing an Indian coach
There has been 13 different coaches appointed for The Blue Tigers in a span of 20 years. Only 5 Indians have been given that responsibility with a combined tenure of 7 years. The Blues recently appointed Igor Stimac and they did show some improvement signs in recent performances. India is such a vast country with so many different footballing cultures in some parts and with different styles of play. The appointment of Stephen Constantine as their head coach came as when The Blue Tigers reached their best ever FIFA rankings at 97 in 2017 since climbing up to 94 place in 1994. The worst FIFA rank came under his belt too when The Blues were 173 back in 2015. The Indian coaches should be given the post of head coach as they will have an in depth idea of which technical and tactical system works in India and with The Blue Tigers still lagging behind the European football by a mile, it becomes difficult for the players to adopt to the tactical switches between one foreign coach to another. The U-17 Indian Team did display promising display under Bibiano Fernandes. The golden period of Indian Football was mostly under an Indian coach, Syed Abdul Rahim and he went on to make one of the best team in Asia
Lack of proper system, infrastructure and finance to become a professional football player
The career as a football professional player is still a risky move in India but if you have a backup option of what you are going to do after becoming a professional or keeping the dream of becoming a footballer second choice. The players in the past and even now face the same dilemma. Despite the fact that India is home to innovative minds that have established themselves globally from 50% of scientists working in NASA to The Google CEO, still there is such negligence in the field of football. Although, there is a proper system in cricket hierarchy as the players are prone to opportunities in academy and they have the infrastructure to be able to accomplish their dream of becoming a cricket pro. The Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophy is one of the best financial support for the cricketers even if they fail to make it to the National Cricket Team but sadly the football in India doesn’t provide these options. The players sacrifice their dream of playing in the national team by choosing to play for the government institutions to get financial stability.
The most underrated, neglected and the most important reasons for India to not qualify for The World Cup is the mental strength and conditioning of the team. There has been a vast difference in the mentality of Indian Football and European Football teams over the last 3 decades. The Blue Tigers have looked short of confidence when on the ball and have been sloppy in the midfield area in past times. The mental conditioning plays a great deal of importance for a player to perform better and there’s no doubt The Blues have struggled to handle the in-game pressure during the crucial matches.
The Indian National Team has a long way to go but with the right strategic plans and right moves we Indians can dream of playing in The FIFA World Cup. Appointing Igor Stimac as their head coach was indeed a good decision but real challenge for him is to make the players play at their technical strength. The playing style of The Blues have been one of the main concerns too with player being short of confidence on the ball and playing on counters through long balls have been our game play. After the arrival of Croatian we did display drastic improvements in our tactical area. We played out from the back, controlled the midfield emphatically and looked confident on the ball. The draw against The Asian Champions Qatar was indeed an evidence of how good The Blue Tigers can be if the deserving players get to play at their strength.