| India coach Stephen Constantine monitors Jatin Bist and Bhaichung Bhutia during the AIFF-organised medical and fitness programme at the SAI Eastern Centre Monday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: A new set of tournaments is on the anvil as the All India Football Federation (AIFF) takes steps to develop and nourish talent from junior level.
While the emphasis will be on generating a steady supply line of players for national and domestic-level competitions, the tournaments will also help shortlist players to undergo further grooming at various medical and fitness camps.
“From next year, we have decided to start inter-zonal competitions at under-16 and under-19 levels. We expect to pick about 25-30 players from each zone — East, South, North and West — and these players will be groomed specially at sports medicine camps,” AIFF secretary Albert Colaco said on Monday.
He added that the Federation is also planning to kick off a national under-13 tournament for schools, for which the best team in each state will be eligible. “We will ask each state association to commence such tournaments at the state level,” Colaco said.
Meanwhile, a sports medicine programme was launched at SAI Eastern Centre on Monday. The programme aims to assess and improve the fitness of top players.
In all, 57 national-level players (senior and under-23), including all East Bengal players currently undergoing pre-season practice under South African physical trainer Kevin Jackson, are participating in the programme, christened “Fitness for Soccer”.
The players were selected by India coach Constantine, his former deputy Aloke Mukherjee and some other coaches. Colaco, however, said the list was not final and said “any promising player can be called up to join the programmes”.
Three players from the AIFF’s original list —including Mohun Bagan’s Ashim Biswas — didn’t take part because of injuries.
The programme, drawn up by AIFF sports medicine commission chairman Dr. Vece Paes, is aimed at producing a database of all national players with regard to their technical skills and physical fitness.
As a follow-up, the AIFF will also organise similar programmes for juniors, Colaco said.
These programmes will be distributed regionally in Margao, Delhi and Bangalore as well.
However, the fitness regimen has been received with scepticism by former players and officials of the city clubs.
According to them, their practice would be hampered since football in the country is mostly club-based. “Besides, players are getting one set of fitness regime here and they will then get another set at the clubs. This is likely to jeopardise the situation,” said a former player.
Colaco, however, said players will be asked to follow an individual fitness regime, which will be handed over to them after the four-day programme, but did not comment anything when asked about its feasibility during the players’ practice at clubs.
Request on Vietnam meet
The AIFF is set to request the Vietnam football association to defer the LG Cup tournament as the Federation is struggling to call a national camp because of a congested calendar. The LG Cup was originally scheduled to take place in September, but it has been advanced by a month and will now be held from August 22 to 31.
Meanwhile, the Federation Cup, starting in the city from July 25, will get over on August 7, leaving little time for the defending champions to prepare for the Vietnam tournament.
Coach Constantine said that “it’s very difficult to prepare within a short period of time after the Federation Cup.”