| Joseph Sepp Blatter on a jeep with Mohun Bagan and East Bengal captains Bhaichung Bhutia (left) and Alvito D’Cunha at the Salt Lake stadium. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta, April 15: The next big football market, yes, a passionate following, yes. Garlanding Indian footballers’ statues — Joseph Sepp Blatter was game for that, too.
The next big soccer power' If someone had big hopes, they would have collapsed as fast as the platform for TV crew did before the Fifa chief’s eyes today.
He is prepared to help, “but it is only if you help yourself (that) heaven will help you,” the 71-year-old Swiss said.
Perhaps it was worth travelling thousands of miles to tell Indian football bosses a truth staring at them from in front of their noses.
Blatter had just had a look around the Maidan, visited the Big Three tents and watched Mohun Bagan take on East Bengal. He made no comments about the game but found the Salt Lake stadium “huge” and the “passion of the 70-odd thousand people encouraging”.
“But that’s not enough.’
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) boss Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, who has accompanied Blatter to the city, was blunter. With the existing structure, don’t think of progress “even in the next 100 years”, he said.
He wasn’t referring to the structure that caved in under cameramen’s feet as Blatter was garlanding Goshto Pal’s statue near Eden Gardens.
“The introduction of a professional league (from next season) is a step in a positive direction, but you need to develop the game at all levels,” Blatter said.
“Maybe I can provide you with the best possible technical support, including good foreign coaches. But do you have a strong base to support it… (so that) the good coaches will be happy to come'”
Yet, standing before the Mohammedan Sporting tent it struck him that the 116-year-old club was older than Fifa.
“I had been to many countries but the enthusiasm I noticed among the boys and girls (on) the streets of Calcutta was very genuine. This is good for you, as well as for us.”
Tomorrow in Delhi, he would tell Manmohan Singh “how football can help a country like India, which is growing fast”.
“We don’t want to change your country. We are not here to fight against an established game that is called cricket. But we have realised India is a vast potentiality and must be tapped. The future market for football is in Asia. Europe is now saturated for foreign players and coaches.”
A working group of officials from the All-India Football Federation, AFC and Fifa will strive for the improvement of the Indian game, but the government and corporate houses must play a far bigger role.
India, which gets $250,000 a year from Fifa, will be offered a special grant. “But football can’t survive on grants.”
He quoted Confucius: “If your brother asks for a fish, don’t give him the same, instead teach him how to catch it.”
For the moment, cricket seems safe.