India is just three years away from hosting the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, and India captain Sunil Chhetri is just thrilled at the prospect of Grassroots and Youth Development hogging all the limelight from all corners.
“In my 13 years of football, I have always believed in nurturing talent from a very young age,” skipper Chhetri told reporters in his opening address at the Media Interaction of a private sports management company which in collaboration with just-promoted French Ligue 1 side FC Metz sends the best of talents from their Grassroots programme to train with the French outfit.
“This is just amazing. The focus on Youth Development and Grassroots, and with the U-17 World Cup three years away this is so ideal,” added the skipper who shepherded Bengaluru FC to their epochal maiden I-League triumph.
For the record, FC Metz – who have just made the grade from the second division to the top tier in April – are renowned for their Youth Academy which has consistently produced stars from veterans like Robert Pires, Emmanuel Adebayor to current sensations AS Roma’s Miralem Pjanic and Newcastle United’s Demba Papiss Cisse.
“I am happy and jealous at the same time,” Chhetri continued. “When I was growing up, I could never imagine such exposures. I could never imagine training in one of Europe’s top Academies and under the tutelage of the well known footballers like Pires.”
The trend aping the fancy tricks of International superstars is what kids tend to pick up at an early age. But the India Captain was heartened to see Indian ‘future stars’ in the Metz Academy doing the ‘basics’ correctly to start off with.
“I was in France to see these kids who have been selected from the Grassroots Programme of this Management Company. The best get this opportunity and I was so pleasantly surprised to see these youngsters doing the basics correctly.”
“Lot of them try fancy things first but with proper grooming which these lucky few at Metz are receiving, the basics should be in order first. That’s very important.”
“Football is a simple game.”
Present on the dais was AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das. Lauding Chhetri and the private company’s Grassroots initiative, Mr. Das said, “We at AIFF are precisely focusing on what Sunil and Eric Benny with his sports management company had been stressing on.”
“Grassroots Development is top on AIFF’s agenda. We have tied-up with the Federation of Australia (FFA) then we have Grassroots Programme running in seven to eight states across the country. AFC has also acknowledged our efforts as one of the best Grassroots programmes of Asia.”
“We have four Academies running between the age groups of 14 to 16, with an Elite Academy also. So I believe we are all on the same page today.”
Shifting focus to the U-17 World Cup, the General Secretary added: “Sunil is part of the Special Committee set up for the upcoming U-17 World Cup in which India will take part. It is also good to see that these boys are training in Europe with the best and among the best. I’m sure all of this will culminate in contributing largely for our U-17 World Cup Team.”
Picking up from there, Chhetri said: “Me along with Baichung (Bhutia) and Derrick (Pereira) Sir will be sitting together and prepare a plan for the U-17 World Cup Team. We will then put our proposal forward to Kushal (Das) Sir to take it forward.”
Chhetri – who is India’s all-time leading scorer and this season’s top goal getter – announced that he is the brand ambassador for Eric Benny’s Sports Management Company.
(Report & Picture courtesy AIFF Media)