Players exhibit dribbling skills during the talent hunt at Birsa Munda Football Stadium in Ranchi on Tuesday. (Hardeep Singh)
Eight-year old Siddhu Hembrom’s friends call him Messi. Not only does the boy from Bundu desperately mimic his Argentine idol’s style, he aspires to be as great as the soccer superstar one day.
The son of a humble farmer, Siddhu grew up watching his father and uncles play football in their free time. For them, it was recreation, but Siddhu began dreaming big — to represent India and be the best in the game.
However, he wasn’t alone nursing such dreams while living in a small rural community in the outskirts of Ranchi. Ten-year-old Suraj Khalkho from Khunti also considers football his life. “On my fifth birthday, my father gifted me a football and I was hooked,” remembers the boy.
Siddhu and Suraj were among 200-odd youngsters who turned up at the Birsa Munda Football Stadium on Tuesday to participate in the All India Football Federation (AIFF) talent hunt.
AIFF is on a selection spree in 24 centres around the country, including Ranchi and Jamshedpur.
Former football coach of Sports Authority of India Rohit Parashar, who is touring Jharkhand to scour for talents told The Telegraph that numbers were not a problem — the more the merrier. “We are here today and tomorrow after which we are going to Jamshedpur. We will be happy to pick up as many talents as possible from these two centres. They will be screened in New Delhi before being absorbed as a cadre,” he said.
Jharkhand has produced hockey legends like Jaipal Singh Munda and Sylvanus Dungdung. It also shot to international fame as Team India captain and Ranchi boy M.S. Dhoni made it big.
“Football continued to be neglected despite there being so much talent here. The reasons ranged from lack of interest among policy makers, funds availability and motivation,” remarked a senior SAI official and football player.
According to Parashar, Ranchi had a huge talent pool.
“The final names will be decided only tomorrow morning after we finish the trials. But I can already see the number of talented players who will taste success with grooming,” he said.
AIFF is opening four football academies in Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and Calcutta. The selected candidates will be enrolled in these centres and will be groomed for national, international and state events under the federation banner.
“All expenses would be borne by the football federation. We are tentatively keeping 30-35 seats per centre,” Parashar said. On the criteria for selection, Parashar said it was all about playing skills.
“This apart, we are taking players who are not more than 15 years old. We see how they behave on field, their football handling skills etc,” he added.
Jharkhand Players’ Association will also host another league from August 1 to September 15. Trials will begin from June 27 and continue till July 10. The final selections will kick off from July 15.