“Do you have a jersey with ‘Messi’ written on the back?” A 10 odd year old kid asked the shopkeeper of a local street shop in Calcutta.
“Yes, but I’m afraid we don’t have one of your size”, the shopkeeper replied.
“Oh, what’s the smallest size that you have?” He asked with glimpse of hope in his voice. The shop keeper, using a long stick, picked up a blue color jersey from the top of his stall and handed it over to the boy.
“Ah, perfect. It’s pretty big, but doesn’t matter.” He noticed that although Messi’s name was printed on the back of the jersey, the number ‘10’ was missing. He took out a sketch pen from his bag and marked ‘10’ below ‘Messi’ and paid a bargained price for it.

‘Why did you do that?’ I asked the kid.
“I have a match in my locality”, he said, “and if we win, I’ll be rich by Rs. 400, a lot of money to buy medicine for my ailing mother.”
“Hope your mother gets well soon, but why are you wasting your money on buying this jersey?”
“Because Messi scores a lot of goals and he never lets his team down. And most importantly, he plays ‘For’ the team.” He answered back laying stress on the word ‘for’.
“Do you want to become a footballer?” I asked with a smile on my face.
“My father says that if I continue to get better, some day, I’ll play alongside Messi.” He said with immense joy and ran away.

That kid, like many other kids from the slums of Calcutta, has a dream. A dream to become a professional footballer. It’s not that the trend of becoming a footballer has hit the city recently. There are many, many unsung heroes from this city who went on to become great footballers. This city has given our country some of its finest footballers who unfortunately, like every other great footballers representing India, have failed to make a mark in the International arena.

Why is it so? Why isn’t there any Indian footballer to have played for F.C.Barcelona or Manchester United or their like?

We are living in a country in which there’s not much for a sport that is played by more than 200 countries (professionally and not just for fun), but a lot for a sport which is played by hardly 20 odd countries. This, for every Indian, is another paradox of our times in the sporting world.Such a pity.

I believe that the best footballers of this country can be found in the not so affluent places of the country. One such example is Subrata Paul. And if you’re against my opinion, then name one (good) Indian footballer who comes from a financially rich family. ‘None’ is the answer. Remember, the Peles and the Maradonas, they all came from a financially poor background, yet, they went on to become Footballing Gods.

I’m not saying that kids who come from financially sound families cannot become good footballers. Of course, they can. But to make that possible, the government and the AIFF will have to encourage the sport at a higher level. Unfortunately, that can’t just happen overnight.

Thousands of kids from this part of the world want to become footballers, but after their schooling, they don’t really get any good opportunities. Unfortunately, they have to choose between Football and studies. Eventually, India loses not just matches but some outstanding talent.

Surprisingly, there are many kids who have a similar hurdle of choosing between cricket and studies. Yet, many of them opt for cricket. Why is it so? The reason is simple. Unlike footballers, there’s scope for cricketers in this country. Chances are that they will make money, good money. So basically, for budding cricketers, the fear of being unsuccessful is brought down by the chances of being successful in their sport. Plus, there’s money in cricket. Had money not been a factor, I can assure you that many more kids, from this part of the world, who want to become sportsmen, would come up saying that they want to take up Football as their profession.

AIFF lacks a transparent and coherent system. The selection of the officials is not done on the basis of merit. It’s a pity!
And lastly, we have to get rid of the undeserving and uninterested people who are occupying the important seats in the administration of AIFF, headed by Mr. Praful Patel, the same person who was the face behind the thousand crores scams in the aviation industry.
It’s high time for us to look beyond cricket when it comes to sports. We need to be more versatile. We need to believe.

Yes, of late, various International clubs have taken initiative by providing kids with opportunities in training abroad. One recent example is the Airtel Rising Star. Manchester United, in collaboration with Airtel, has selected 12 kids under the age of 16 from across Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India. Brilliant, isn’t it? Oh, wait! Everything has a price and so does the registration forms (they were priced Rs. 300 odd).

We have to understand that it’s extremely difficult for a kid from a village to travel to the nearest city, where selections are to take place and further pay a pretty high amount for the registration form. Some kids aren’t even sure whether they’ll get a square meal food every day, forget about buying the registration forms and if, by any chance, they arrange the required amount; they have the fear of failing during the trials? There’s no denying the fact that most of the kids who want to become footballers come from financially not-so-strong background (read very poor), and thus they can’t take part in such selections. Result, well, the Indian team (men) ranks 154 (as on 21st January, 2014) in the FIFA world rankings.

Fact: FIFA has more member nations than United Nations.

This will hardly help. What we really need are initiatives by people to organize competitions like ‘Slum Soccer’, open Football academies (or at least sports academies for that matter) like ‘Football First’. That’s the need of the hour. If possible, one should just keep the money factor aside and think about doing something for the country.

The paradox of Indian Football is –

• We do get the required funds from FIFA, but we can’t even use it wisely.
• We do have football grounds, but we can’t even provide budding footballers with proper infrastructure facilities.
• We do have a huge population of talented kids, but do we provide them with platforms to showcase their skills?
• We do have a good variety of talent, but we are too lazy to form a good scouting team and set them in search of an Indian Messi.

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