Indian football at the crossroads

India came into the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011 having not appeared at the finals of the continental championship since 1984.

But while the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup winners have lost their opening two games at this year’s tournament – against Australia and Bahrain – coach Bob Houghton is confident the football landscape within the nation is set to change.

“I think there is a determination now in the country, from the AFC, from FIFA that Indian football needs to move on,” the Englishman told www.afcasiancup.com.

Bob Houghton: Coach, Indian national football team

“I don’t think people will throw their hands in the air and give up. I think people will do the opposite and people will sit down and focus on what is fundamentally wrong with the game in India and how do we change it.

“And it’s not a difficult question to answer because you are talking about a country that has zero football infrastructure. We have, I think, one stadium in the whole of the country that meets the criteria to host a World Cup qualifier and that’s in Chennai, where there is no football and it’s an athletics stadium.

“We have no training facilities – and I mean that – which is why when we get the national team together we have to go outside the country to find somewhere to train. If you have no infrastructure then it’s almost impossible to organise a league because there are no grounds to play the matches.

“Our matches kick off at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and are played on surfaces that no self-respecting top player would play on and in 35 degrees of heat at least. Therefore, the games are very slow tempo and maybe players are running three or four kilometres compared with the 10 or 11 you’ve got to do when you come to an Asian Cup.

“I genuinely believe that being in the Asian Cup will move everything on.”

Houghton’s is one of numerous voices that have called for an improvement in the situation within the game in India, including the President of the Asian Football Confederation, Mohamed Bin Hammam.

Bin Hammam visited the Indian delegation at their hotel during the group stages of the AFC Asian Cup and has been pushing the football authorities and government officials to step up their work to improve the state of the game in India.

“The President of the AFC came to India three years ago and said India is a hundred years behind and then he came last year and said nothing has changed,” says Houghton.

“I don’t know how long or how many times people have got to say that to get the authorities to come to grips with it but it’s not being done.

“The first step has got to be infrastructure. The fact we haven’t got any good development programmes or coach education programmes can be changed, you can force clubs to start working with under 19s, under 17s and under 14s. That just needs the political will to start it.

“But you can’t build infrastructure overnight, it takes a definite commitment. We have had some serious talks about it while we have been in Doha but unless they move on, the game won’t move forward.”

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