Under-17 team will change Indian football: AIFF secretary

Kolkata, Jan 6 (IANS) All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary Kushal Das on Wednesday said he believes the Under-17 World Cup squad which the country has put up will be the game changer in the country’s football.

“What has been a great revelation in 2015 is the development of the U-17 World Cup team. I have watched them play a few times. They played in Spain. They qualified for the AFC under-16 Championship for 2016 by merit even though we had an automatic berth,” Das told reporters here at the I-League launch ceremony.

“But the way the team is developing with the help of coach Nicolai (Adam), I think this might be the game changer. This team would be a very competitive team in the 2017 World Cup and I am really hopeful that this will be the beginning of a new era for Indian football.”

Das said 11 states till now have adopted the grassroot programme which was launched sometime back adding they have launched a state development initiative.

“Eleven states have adopted the grassroot programme, we recently launched a state development programme which is to develop the capacity of the six world Cup venues and we intend to expand it further. 2017 is around the corner and it will be a test,” he said.

He also pointed out that the investment in football has gone up in India in the last two years.

“I know there has been few clubs going out (of I-League). But unfortunately there is always some pain once we try to develop the game. Two years back we had 12 clubs, now we have 17 of course with two leagues. The investment has gone up from Rs.200 crore in the last two years to Rs.600 crore now. It’s tripled. All these are good signs for Indian football,” Das said.

Delighted with the recent victory at the SAFF Championship, Das said if the team continues to work hard it would qualify for the 2019 Asian Championship.

“Indian football needs to develop based on the performance of the national team. In the last two days the positivity has been amazing (After SAFF cup win).

“Always 15-day camps are not possible but we also have to give the players time to settle down. If we do it we will be able to qualify for the Asian Championship in 2019,” he said.

He lauded the efforts of the national side and head coach Stephen Constantine for winning the SAFF final against Afghanistan (2-1).

“As far as the national team was concerned there were some concerns, there were calendar issues, team did not really play well in the World Cup qualifiers. But I am glad to say, the team has settled down. The coach must be complimented for having put together a young team now.

“And the performance in the recent SAFF championship was extremely good. I haven’t seen the team perform better, especially in the final against Afghanistan, it was a hard strategic game and the team fought it out,” he said.

Lastly he added the I-League this time will be more competitive and spectator friendly.

“Last year’s I-League was one of the most successful, most competitive and most visible I-League for a long time. Still we along with the clubs thought the I-League needed a greater marketing effort and therefore we have come up with a plan so that it becomes more competitive and spectator friendly,” he said.

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