100 crore question

The Western India Football Association’s (WIFA) recently announced venture with a local sports management company, Sporting Ace Pvt Ltd, that will see an influx of at least Rs 100 crores into Maharashtra football, is being viewed through a sceptical lens by players and officials alike.

At a press conference last week, WIFA detailed its plans to revamp the state’s footballing culture. Among other initiatives, (i) there is a plan to conduct Asia’s biggest talent hunt in Maharashtra, (ii) to revive the 122-year-old Rovers Cup, and (iii) to conduct intensive coaching and referee-development programmes besides investing into district football associations.

Action during a Nadkarni Cup match between Western Railway (yellow) and Indian Navy (white) at the RCF Sports Complex, Chembur recently.

Erstwhile president of the Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA), Austin Coutinho (57) appreciated WIFA’s “ambitious” plan but called for caution nevertheless.

 “It is a very ambitious project. If it succeeds, there’s nothing like it. The only thing that was missing in football here was money. Now they’ve got 100 crore, but that also makes them accountable to a lot of people. You may have a lot of plans on paper, but in implementing them lies the real challenge,” said Coutinho, who previously coach and managed the Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilisers football side.

According to Coutinho, there are three things missing in Indian football — commitment, infrastructure and fan following. “Infrastructure-wise, we are absolutely zero, he says. A city like Mumbai should have at least 10 good grounds, whereas today, all three of Mumbai’s I-League clubs play at one Stadium (Cooperage). Then, we need enough top-level players and coaches. And finally, you won’t have fans, till you have a good ground and a team that is managed professionally. Pune FC is a perfect example in this regard,” explained Countinho.

Former India player Balin Singh (36) felt WIFA must invest the money in setting up professional training academies. “They (WIFA) must set up academies across the state and target the sport at the grassroot level. These academies should provide a proper system — involving good training facilities, proper diet, school and hostel facility for kids, a good ground, proper equipment, etc.”

RCF player Mohit Bhamre (26) was thrilled to hear of revival of the Rovers Cup. “I was a kid when it got scrapped (12 years ago) and never got to play in it. But this (revival) is a good sign; it shows that Mumbai football has not reached a dead end.

The Rovers Cup will be an inspiration to local players, as it is one of the city’s biggest tournaments.”

From a player’s point of view, Bhamre had a couple of suggestions for WIFA: “Firstly, there should be no involvement of politics in the sport. Then the players’ diet must improve.

The traditional wada pav after practice must be stopped. And finally, the game should be played on natural turf rather than artificial turf. Our studs often get stuck in the synthetic surface and that can be dangerous,” he said.  

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