Are we really putting efforts on grassroots football?

Ningthoujam Rameshchandra *

 A football match during State Subroto Mukerjee Football for U-17 Girls on July 24 2019
A football match during State Subroto Mukerjee Football for U-17 Girls on July 24 2019 : Pix - TSE

Football (soccer) is not a new thing to the people of Manipur. It is as old as the British colonial period. The British colonial officers introduced it to the people of Manipur during the fag end of the nineteenth century.

Today we have 'N' numbers of international players, national players and local level players, retired or continuing. Somotai Shaiza, Khangembam Ratan, Khwairakpam Balin, Guanbir Singh, Mutum Bijen Singh, P. Renedy Singh, Gouramangi Moirangthem, to name a few, were among the most talented and popular names to every football loving households in Manipur.

Today, we have Jackichand Telem, Udanta Kumam, Dhiraj Moirangthem, Amarjit Kiyam, Jeakson Singh, and so on, playing in different clubs in all over Indian cities. So many more are there to name, many more talented or extra-ordinary talented players are expected to come up to be the household names very soon.

Mention may be made here that these above-mentioned players were hardly trained and groomed in Manipur. They are all groomed/well trained in some other State's academies like Tata Football Academies (TFA) or Chandigarh Football Academy (CFA) or somewhere else.

Why? And why these boys all left Manipur for training to some other cities? Because Manipur doesn't not have proper academies to train. Simple as that. Well, we have Sports Authority of India (SAI), but everyone knows how SAI runs and works.

Except Mutum Bijen Singh (who was the product of SAI, that too during his school days at Sainik School Imphal), hardly any players came up from SAI to be the international player from Manipur.

It is of fortunate case that today, we have witness some football-academies in and around Imphal city or few at far off places that are run by some private agent or local clubs. But these are not function as residential one.

The only residential football academy so far, is the Chakpa Football Academy (CFA), located at a village called Phayeng in Imphal West District of Manipur. The Classic Groups of Companies, Manipur, has started one to function as residential academy very recently.

I hope this can be one of the best academies in Manipur. It is a sad news to learn that NEROCA Football Club gradually closing due to sponsorship issue.

Otherwise, it is quite exciting to see many such developments in terms of grassroots football in Manipur. In fact, escalation of football academies can be taken as the launching pad for the budding footballers of Manipur. These platforms can be used to become football stars at international levels.

However, on the sad note, it is quite disheartening to see how the state agencies and other related stakeholders run the grassroots football programmes in Manipur. Take for instances, the organising scenarios of the Subroto Cup Tournament for Schoolboys by the Youth Affairs and Sports (YAS).

Mention may be made that there is "hardly any" tournament organised for the young budding footballers (this may applies the same for the whole Indian football scenario too).

The Subroto Cup Tournament was and is the only tournament organised for younger age groups like Under 14 and Under 17, where the young boys compete and showcase their talents.2 If not, most of the state/national level tournament organised was and is mainly of "senior level" tournaments.

So, I am sure, when such tournaments comes up "once in a year", many of the young talented boys might be so excited to take part in it, as it might have a chance to flourish. The Subroto Cup has been considered as one of the tournaments in India, where boys get call up for national duty. It is a matter of pride for them to take part in it.

However, it is quite demoralizing for these young boys as well as the private agencies or local clubs who groom these boys to take part in such tournament.

Why? Because, age group is not strictly followed by the organiser (Y.A.S. in the case of Subroto Cup). It appears that cheating is openly promoted by the Y.A.S. Boys who are over-age are allowed to field-in into the match just by checking the numbers of tooth.

What if, the over-age boys have extracted their tooth? Ultimately, the match is obviously one sided and eventually, demoralised the hope of the young boy and kill the local club's aspirations. Thus, talents are lost in the nowhere.

Not only the Subroto Cup case, we witness many discrepancies in the selection process for the age group School Level trial selection to participate at National Level tournament, organised by YAS. There was a trial selection on 18th July 2019 for U17 boys at Khuman Lampak Artificial Turf Ground, Manipur.

Boys who do not show up on the 18th July are allowed to participate on the 19th July, i.e. on the Final Selection process. My question to YAS is that, on what criteria you do such satanic/generous act?

I am not quite sure whether such act will do "good" for those boys who follow the rule, or to those boys who do not follow rules. But I am pretty sure that you are not doing justice to the grassroots football. You are not helping the Indian football.

We have heard of Gaurav Mukhi's case for age-fraud who claimed to be very young but actually not. Now he is suspended from playing football. To check such discrepancies Y.A.S. or other related stakeholders should do some homework.

I think science and technology are not that remote to Manipur too. We have scanning technology to detect age and so on. I am not quite sure whether Y.A.S is that poor enough to acquire such machines and technology.

If Y.A.S can do acquired such technology, it would be of immense step/help to groom the budding stars and I am sure Y.A.S will do that in future for the better future.

We must realised that every football clubs in India has minimum two (2) to three (3) players each from Manipur, and Manipur has been considered as the power house of Sports including football. I believe that everyone has taken this tag as a matter of pride. Therefore, every Manipuri including YAS, Manipur, may take this seriously to continuing to get this tag.

To wrap up, I appeal to all the football loving related agencies that we must realise that, to have a good National Senior Team/Squad, we required proper grassroots football development programmes at all age levels.

And such development programmed be organised in such a way that all the age groups are strictly followed with proper mechanism/system. Otherwise, India's dream of "FIFA World Cup Football Tournament" is a distant dream an untenable dream.

Ningthoujam Rameshchandra is a football enthusiast. He was a local level footballer during 1990s - and early 2000s.
He had participated the Subroto Cup at New Delhi, representing Sainik School Imphal as the Captian of the Team in 2002-03 tournaments.
He had also contributed many articles on the development of football in Manipur.

* Ningthoujam Rameshchandra wrote this article for Imphal Times and The Sangai Express
The writer can be contacted at rameshningthoujam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on July 27, 2019.

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