Monday, 30th October 2017

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Laud Bob for being candid

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By FREE KICK P. K. Banerjee
  • Published 30.06.09

A few days back I read in the newspapers the Indian football team was going to Dubai and Spain for pre-season training. I also found out that some people were unhappy about so much money being spent for the team’s training abroad. Personally, I agree with Bob Houghton’s statement that in India there is no infrastructure with modern training facilities. I am happy that Houghton could stand up and utter the truth.

A close look would reveal that top Indian sportspersons in almost every discipline train in foreign countries these days. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have made global impact. Even world chess champion, Viswanathan Anand mostly stays in Spain because of better training facilities.

When Prakash Padukone became the world champion in badminton, he, too, lived in Denmark for a long time to make use of the best training facilities there. I really don’t know why some people are making an issue out of the Indian footballers training in Spain. Now, it is a normal practice in India. The Indian shooters and archers regularly go to places like Germany, Australia, Italy and the US to train before the major meets like World Cup, Asian Games and the Olympics.

This is one of the main reasons why they have been doing well in the international tournaments for the past few years. The Indian football team also gained immensely in the last two seasons when they did their pre-season training in Portugal. They came back to win the Nehru Cup and the AFC Challenge Cup.

I also followed with interest the controversy Houghton kicked off by criticising the sports minister for his off the cuff comment on the Indian football team. As a former footballer and a coach, I could well understand that Houghton thought it was his duty to guard his boys against unnecessary criticism.

The team has done wonderfully in the past two seasons by reaching three finals, so this time we expect them to up their performance by a few notches and beat some higher-ranked teams in the Nehru Cup.

I am definitely not asking them to achieve the near impossible like beating Korea or Japan. But there is no harm in trying to cross swords against teams ranked between 15 and 20 in the Asian rankings.

Existing records clearly indicate that Indian performance has continuously dipped in the international arena in the past 10 years. It would be too much to expect Houghton to clear the entire backlog. Yet, he seems to be the only ray of hope at the moment.

Coming back to Calcutta football, the unsavoury controversy over Bhaichung Bhutia’s suspension should end as soon as possible. He is the national captain and an icon of modern Indian football. He should not be made to suffer.

I am not trying to take sides but the authorities should act faster. The IFA, I believe, has called a meeting in the second week of July to discuss the Bhaichung issue. There was no point in dragging the matter so long. Whatever be the outcome, it should be settled as soon as possible.

Personally, I am against stopping a footballer from pursuing his profession. Bhaichung is a crowd-puller and we should not do anything that would drive the spectators away from the ground. If that happens, then it will be a body blow for the beautiful game.