Where are the strikers in Indian football, asks Brahmanand

BY SUDHAKAR SHANBHAG | NT
Though the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) has gone global about India’s World Cup qualification plans for Qatar 2022, Brahmanand, who had captained India in the 80s, suggests it would rather be practical to aim at improving the country’s standings at Asian level, which would then put the national team in perspective as to where they stand in world football over the next decade.

PANAJI: Former India goalkeeper and Goa’s first Arjuna awardee in football, Brahmanand Shankwalkar isn’t convinced about the All India Football Federation’s 2022 World Cup qualification dreams in Qatar and instead suggested that Indian football needs to find its feet in Asia before setting bigger goals.
Though the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) has gone global about India’s World Cup qualification plans for Qatar 2022, Brahmanand, who had captained India in the 80s, suggests it would rather be practical to aim at improving the country’s standings at Asian level, which would then put the national team in perspective as to where they stand in world football over the next decade.
“It is indeed commendable that that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) wants to accomplish its goal of witnessing India’s qualification into World Cup finals in 2022, but one needs to look at the ground situation,” Brahmanand told The Navhind Times on Monday.
India’s recent 0-2 loss to Singapore in an international friendly and its slide to the lowest FIFA ranking of 169 despite winning the Nehru Cup drew flak from detractors, including AIFF’s own man Rob Baan, the technical director, whose condemning statement that India should be ashamed of its lowly ranking must have hurt the pride for many of India’s staunch supporters and former players who played football with pride and passion during the golden era of the country’s football. India won Asian Games gold in 1951 and 1962 and finished runners-up in the 1964 Asian Cup in what is considered the golden era of Indian soccer.
However, Brahmanand said it is quite depressing to see India slipping to 169 in FIFA rankings despite winning the Nehru Cup in August. “It is also vital at this juncture to make those responsible for this dip accountable,” Brahmanand, who was honoured with ‘Player of the Decade’ award for his contribution to football from 1985-1995, said.
“We dream of qualifying for 2022 World Cup, but is India among the top 10 in Asia?” questioned the former national goalkeeper, asking questions of the system that has failed to produce quality strikers at international level.
“Where are the Brunos, the Vijayans?” Brahmanand sought to know. “Does India have quality strikers?” he continued to pose questions.
Brahmanand, who currently serves as Administrator (taking care of goalkeepers) of Goa-based Sesa Football Academy in Sanquelim, knows the value of youth development and strongly advocates that a pool of U-15s and U-16s needs to be developed by the AIFF and more opportunities and exposure needs to be given to these youngsters to become mature in the next 5-6 years so that they could be blooded into the national side.
“Realistically, India needs to focus on where it stands at the Asian level. If the country can compete with the best in Asia and improve upon their ranking to be in the top 10 in Asia, then we should surely be able to realistically set ourselves a World Cup target,” said the 58-year-old yesteryear goalkeeper of repute.
Brahmanand also said that India needs to strengthen the domestic competitions in all the states and bring back the golden days of Indian football. “There is need to revive tournaments like Rovers Cup, look to promote football in other states and scout football talent across the country,” Brahmanand said, adding that state leagues and I-League alike need to promote “local” talent, which would in a sense become the base for the future.
In a concerned tone, the former star, asserted that unless the foreign force in I-League is cut down, indigenous strikers will hardly come to the fore. “From what I have noticed is that Indian strikers are being shadowed by foreigners and are forced to play in other positions in I-League. They generally find themselves playing in some other positions due to the presence of foreigners. I know, if only the locals are persisted the League may suffer for some years, but I think it is worth it if only one foreigner is allowed to play in the I-League and 2nd Division I-League tournaments. It is a though-provoking issue, but will help Indian football in the long run,” Brahmanand noted. “All I meant to say is that we need to promote the local talent for a brighter future,” the Goan stalwart remarked.
On the national team, Brahmanand said that he was happy with the way things have progressed after the appointment of Win Koevermans, but apart from concentrating on physical fitness of players there was a need to focus on “players’ intelligence”, which is a tactical aspect of the game, he said.
On foreign heads in Indian football, Brahmanand said that foreign coaches bring education into India but even Indian coaches need to be treated with professional respect. “How long are we going to experiment?” queried Brahmanand wanting to know why lesser opportunities, at national level, were being provided to successful coaches like Sukhwinder Singh, Armando Colaco and Savio Medeira.
On the goalkeeping front, Brahmanand, who himself has been a role model, praised Subrata Paul and Subashish Roy Chowdhury for doing the national duty with aplomb rating the duo as the best in business right now.