In­dia in­spired by Ice­land in grass­roots ex­pan­sion

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

The size of the task fac­ing Dutch­man Piet Hu­bers when he agreed to help de­velop grass­roots soc­cer in In­dia quickly be­came ap­par­ent with one sim­ple com­par­i­son.

Hu­bers dis­cov­ered there are more full­sized pitches in his home town of Wi­jchen, which has a pop­u­la­tion of around 40,000, than in the whole of Mum­bai, which has more than 20 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants.

“That makes it very chal­leng­ing,” he told Reuters in an in­ter­view held at the In­ter­na­tional Sports Con­ven­tion in Geneva. Ice­land, who reached the quar­ter-fi­nals of Euro 2016, are a good guide to what can be achieved.

“I use Ice­land very much as an ex­am­ple,” said Hu­bers. “They in­vested a lot of money in fa­cil­i­ties, in halls, in ar­ti­fi­cial pitches but also in coaches.

“It’s manda­tory that ev­ery coach is qual­i­fied other­wise you can’t even coach a youth team and that in my opin­ion is one of the ba­sics of the success of Ice­landic foot­ball.”

Cricket-lov­ing In­dia is a sleep­ing gi­ant as far as foot­ball is con­cerned. The na­tional side are 137th in the world rank­ings and, on the only oc­ca­sion they qual­i­fied for the World Cup in 1950, pulled out with­out kick­ing a ball.

How­ever, the coun­try of 1.3 bil­lion is fi­nally wak­ing up to the most pop­u­lar sport on the planet. The In­dian Su­per League (ISL) is in its third sea­son and Kushal Das, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the All In­dia Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion, has said the coun­try is aiming to qual­ify for the 2026 World Cup.

Hu­bers, a for­mer de­fender for Dutch top-flight club NEC Ni­jmegen, be­lieves that de­vel­op­ing the sport at grass­roots level is fun­da­men­tal to In­dia’s plans.

“The more play­ers you get into the sys­tem, the bet­ter the qual­ity will be at the top,” he said.

The ISL, pro­moted by bil­lion­aire Mukesh Am­bani’s Reliance In­dus­tries and Ru­pert Mur­doch’s Star In­dia TV, have their own grass­roots pro­gramme of which Hu­bers is tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor.

The most tal­ented play­ers are se­lected for a res­i­den­tial pro­gramme, based near Mum­bai, known as Young Champs.

Started in 2014, the scheme’s first tar­get is to give 500,000 chil­dren be­tween the ages of six and 14 the chance to play foot­ball and get coach­ing.

Hu­bers said find­ing spa­ces to play was one of the ma­jor chal­lenges in In­dia’s teem­ing cities and that chil­dren needed to play reg­u­larly.

“One train­ing ses­sion ev­ery week and a grass­roots match ev­ery week for 20 weeks a sea­son is the ab­so­lute min­i­mum but that is also the big­gest chal­lenge be­cause you need good fa­cil­i­ties, you need a play­ing sys­tem, you need good coaches, you must or­gan­ise teams and that is not so easy,” he said. Im­pro­vi­sa­tion is of­ten the key and the con­cept of pop-up pitches, where or­gan­is­ers bring portable goals and an­nounce venues on so­cial me­dia, has be­come pop­u­lar. Of­fi­cials have also at­tempted to per­suade pri­vate clubs and schools to make their fa­cil­i­ties avail­able.

“There are square me­tres you can use here and there, for ex­am­ple for play­ing a small game which can be four against four, or seven against seven,” Hu­bers said.

Coach­ing is an­other key el­e­ment. “The most im­por­tant thing for the ISL clubs is to ed­u­cate the coaches ... so that par­ents can be con­fi­dent their chil­dren are im­prov­ing,” added Hu­bers. He said it can take 10 years of in­vest­ment in grass­roots foot­ball to pay off at in­ter­na­tional level and be­lieves In­dia’s goal of reach­ing the 2026 World Cup is achiev­able.

“You al­ways must set tar­gets ... and that’s just a tar­get, not an obli­ga­tion al­though it is cer­tainly high on our wish list,” he ex­plained.

“I think that qual­i­fy­ing for the World Cup in 2026 is a re­al­is­tic ob­jec­tive. When you look at the na­tional team and the na­tional youth teams, they’re pro­gress­ing very well and they will progress more if the grass­roots sys­tem in­creases.” — Reuters

NEW DELHI: Delhi Dy­namos FC mid­fielder Mar­cos Ramiro Te­bar (L) vies for the ball against Ker­ala Blasters FC for­ward Mo­ham­mad Rafiq (R) dur­ing the sec­ond leg of the sec­ond semi-fi­nal In­dian Su­per League (ISL) foot­ball match be­tween Delhi Dy­namos FC and Ker­ala Blasters FC at The Jawa­har Lal Nehru Sta­dium in New Delhi yes­ter­day. — AFP

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