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Bhaichung scouts soccer heels in hills
- Football star to choose 20 boys from the hills and Sikkim with eye on Under-17 Fifa World Cup

Darjeeling, Dec. 19: Bhaichung Bhutia has started a soccer talent-scouting bid in Sikkim and the hills to train boys who may represent India in the Under-17 Fifa World Cup that will be hosted by India in 2017.

The first leg of talent-scouting in the hills started today at the St Joseph School grounds in Darjeeling, where over hundred boys, all under 14, gathered to play.

The boys were divided into seven-a-side teams. Each match was for 25 minutes.

Bhaichung, over phone from Gangtok, said: “We are organising one of the biggest football festivals in Sikkim and the Darjeeling hills. There will be tournaments and camps and they will be attended by more than 1,000 youngsters from the region.” The former captain of the national football team now co-owns United Sikkim Football Club.

Bhutia said the hills have a lot of untapped talent. “The pool of talent in the region is tremendous and we need to identify them and hone their skills. The Under-17 Fifa World Cup is also scheduled to be held in India in 2017 and we need to start working towards building a formidable team for the tournament.”

Arjun Rai, the senior manager of United Sikkim Football Club, said: “Bhaichung Bhutia has always been impressed with the talent that is present in the hills and he has decided to make a concrete effort to identity youths, groom them and give them exposure not just in the national but also international level.”

To scout talents from the region, Bhaichung’s club, along with the Indian Football Foundation and the State Bank of India, has decided to organise an under-14 football tournament in Darjeeling and Kalimpong called the Snowlion Cup.

They will follow it up with a month long free coaching camp.

“The Darjeeling leg of the U-14 hunt kicked off here today. A similar one will also be held in Kalimpong on December 21 and 22. The Sikkim leg concluded in Gangtok on Tuesday where Boys Club have come out victorious,” Rai said.

“The winners of the three legs will fight it out for the Snowlion Cup in Darjeeling on December 23. The winners will get Rs 30,000, while the runner-up and the second runner-up will get Rs 20,000 and Rs 10,000 respectively,” said Rai.

Bhutia said: “This is the biggest prize money for a U-14 tournament in the region. In Sikkim when we (United Sikkim Football Club) won the league, the prize money was Rs 25,000. We are trying to attract as many teams as possible.”

From the three finalist teams, a pool of 30 promising boys would be selected. “We will then hold a coaching camp for the 30 footballers in Gangtok and further select a group of 20 players. These players will be groomed and given exposure by making them participate in the best U-14 tournaments across India,” said Bhutia, who is also keen on setting up a football academy in the hills.

Apart from selecting under-14 players from the region, Bhaichung has also decided to hold a month-long free coaching camp at Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Mangan in North Sikkim, Jorethang in South Sikkim and Pelling in West Sikkim in January for under-16 players.

“Instead of concentrating only on Gangtok we have decided to reach out to the rural areas to identify talents,” said Bhutia.

The former Indian striker is also looking at getting foreign coaches for the camps. In Darjeeling the U-16 coaching camp will be jointly organised by Darjeeling Town Veteran, which has been formed by senior footballers from the town. The Darjeeling leg of the Snowlion Cup will also be managed by the veterans.