Tata Football Academy in Jamshedpur
Failing performance of Tata Football Academy (TFA) cadets has granted a rare opportunity to budding talents from districts to prove their mettle in junior and senior state teams.
The Jharkhand Football Association is already looking beyond the prestigious soccer cradle to select players who can represent the state in national-level ties. The Jharkhand squad that competed in the recently concluded national junior championship, held simultaneously in Ranchi and Bokaro, also comprised only four TFA cadets.
Earlier, boys from the academy were a majority in the junior outfits. In fact, cadets from the cradle had played a crucial role in propelling the state team to clinch the national junior title four times in a row — from 2006 to 2009.
“Until recently, players from TFA were default choices during state selections. The TFA brand led us to believe they were the best. That trend has changed,” said Jharkhand Football Association vice-president Ramesh Mehta.
In an exhibition match between TFA and Jharkhand, played at Birsa Munda Football Stadium in Morabadi, Ranchi, on August 29, the former lost 1-2. “Boys from districts no longer look at their TFA counterparts in awe. They have started believing they can match their prowess,” said Mehta.
The administrator pointed out that this was a golden chance for talented players from districts. “Why not give opportunity to home talents when TFA boys are cutting a sorry figure? Looking beyond the cradle will help us concentrate more on footballers from the districts,” he argued.
Echoing Mehta, association secretary Ghulam Rabbani said “dismal show” by TFA players at inter-club competitions had become a matter of concern.
“TFA mein woh dam-kham nahin hai (TFA cadets have lost their touch). Earlier, teams from the academy used to be neck and neck with East Bengal and Mohun Bagan,” he told The Telegraph over phone from Giridih.
Both Mehta and Rabbani said the state soccer outfit would invite TFA trainees for selection trials. But, performance would be the sole criterion on which they would be judged.
Notably, TFA’s performance graph has nosedived over the past two years. The cradle lost seven out of eight tournaments in 2012. This year, it failed to reach the final in the Jamshedpur Sporting Association League and made an exit in the first round of the Steel Express Football Tournament in Chakradharpur, losing 6-7 to Indian Bank (Chennai) in a tie-breaker.
Nobody from the Tata cradle was available for comment on cadet performance. TFA senior manager M.R. Bhalla, who agreed to speak to The Telegraph, cited his exclusively administrative role and hence, inability to speak on the matter. “I would not like to comment on performance of our boys,” he said.