When and where did the concept of AIFF Academies originate?
It came from FIFA. It was after Jean Michel Benezet (Technical Director, FIFA) visited India that he suggested the best way forward for Indian Football is to set up Academies. He asked me whether I was available and would like to work on this Project. Discussions followed and I joined in November 2011.
How much do you see this serving the purpose?
At the moment it's essential that we have them. Otherwise majority of the boys won't be training everyday. And in the short term it's also yielded results, that too in less than a Year. After all, it's the All India Football Federation's Academy boys who are representing India at the AFC U-16 Qualifiers. But one needs to rethink about the Project in the long run.
What do you mean by that?
Ideally AIFF should be having an Elite Academy and it would be upto the Clubs to be having their age-group Academies. As per the Club Licensing criteria it's compulsory.
Even if you leave aside the Criteria, the Clubs need to understand the benefits of having their own Academy. It's not just about contributing to the development of Indian Football but also about having a feeder line for the Club. That's what is expected of them.
Does the AIFF stay open to include new boys in the Curriculum?
Always! We stay in the hunt for new Players, fresh talent. When players are recommended to us either through our own scouting network or through unsolicited recommendations we invite them in for a trial to be assessed by our Technical Staff. If they are deemed good enough they will be invited to join the Academy.
Only some weeks back, our General Secretary Kushal Das was approached by a Lady who wanted to know how her son who had just returned from a training stint in France, could become part of the AIFF Academy Programme. That's the reason we never fill up the slots at the Academy. Others also deserve a chance and we are always on the lookout for talented Players.
You have seen Academies in the West. How do you compare the quality of the boys on display?
I have constantly monitored the present set of boys (who are presently playing in the U-16 AFC Qualifiers) and the improvement which they have shown in less than a year has been pleasing. The best trait of this batch stays their commitment. They are proud to be a part of the Academy; they are proud to represent their Country. It's pleasing to see them train and their willingness to learn. Their attitude is commendable and it's a pleasure to work with them. They are talented boys who have shown they have the ability and the desire to become successful football players and hopefully go on to represent the Senior National Team one day.
However, they need to retain the same attitude as they grow up. That will give them a good understanding of what is required to be a Professional Footballer. Only the other day I sent an E-mail to our Technical Director Mr. Robert Baan about the positive attitude of the boys.
You have been stubborn in not compromising with age fraud. How does this help?
If you win with overage Players, there's no fulfillment or satisfaction. You need to do it with boys of the right age. It's all about development and sending the right message to all.
How much a role does scouting play in the establishment of an Academy?
We are trying to develop a system but there are financial constraints. The Grassroots Programme holds the key to proper scouting. There needs to be a Developmental Officer in every State at the Grassroot Level and we also need to have a database of Players. Those stay the fundamentals to success in the long run. It's all about giving the kids an opportunity to have fun while playing and scouting the right ones.
There are quite a few Indian Coaches who are in charge at the AIFF Academies. How do you define that?
Apart from the Elite Academy where Mr. Colm Joseph Toal stays in charge, all the other AIFF Academies are being run by Indian Coaches. We have identified them from the various Coach Selection Courses (conducted by Mr. Robert Baan and myself) and have provided them opportunities to develop themselves in a professional manner. And it's not only the Coaches; there are Indian physios and full-time Managers in each of the Academies.
--IBNS (Posted on 23-09-2013)