The former Indian Football Team player has urged The Nizams to capitalize on the sports culture of the city.

Hyderabad FC are possibly looking to reboot the football culture in the city. There was a time in the 1960s when almost half of the national team’s players belonged to the city of Hyderabad. However, that phase passed with players emerging from different parts of the country. As the franchise looks to promote the sport in the town, an online discussion was arranged by them hosted by presenter Suhail Chandhok. The panel comprised of Indian football stalwart Shabbir Ali.

The former striker has represented clubs such as Mohammedan SC, Salgaocar FC and Mahindra United in his career. Commenting on Hyderabad’s affinity towards football, he remarked, “They are sport-minded people. In football also they used to play, but in between the charm and following were not there because we didn’t have good teams. On the whole, Hyderabad is famous for its sporting culture.”

The veteran sportsperson explained the importance of the prevalence of corporate teams. He stated that such sides encourage an individual to take up the sport, as there is always the insurance of a job along with it. However, the lack of corporate teams has hampered the growth of football in the city, he believes. Ali observed, “Other states, they had good corporate teams. Then after 1997 good I-League teams, IFA teams have come. We don’t have any. So, that was the problem as the target was not there, the supporters was not there, so that was the drawback.”

The Dhyan Chand Award winner held that the importance of national tournaments has reduced due to the absence of tournaments such as the Durand Cup, Rovers Cup and so on. “Now, the players are not getting chance due to I-League and ISL. I am not criticizing them, but the problem is simultaneously football is there all over India. When you didn’t get the teams, didn’t get the sponsor that’s why they are not conducting the tournaments for close to 20 years now.”

Ali continued, “These tournaments were very important for the players to perform. If you perform well here as well as in the nationals, then you will get chance for the country.”

The host quizzed Shabbir Ali about his experience of playing against the Polish and Uruguayan teams in our own backyard. There was an attempt in the conversation to draw a parallel between the scenarios back then, when the Indian team used to rub shoulders with some prominent European counterparts, whereas the same cannot be seen currently. The 61-year-old sighed, “It was our bad luck that the TV and electronic media were not there then.”

He further divulged, “That was a really extraordinary chance, especially when we played against Uruguay in Kolkata and against Argentina, who had all players except Diego Maradona and maybe a few others.” The prolific forward turned out on 72 occasions, for the national team and netted 23 goals.

He took immense pride in representing the nation on the international stage and admitted, “In the end, the dream for every player is to represent the national team and thankfully I won the Dhyan Chand award for that.” Another remarkable moment in Shabbir Ali’s career was donning the Indian jersey at the 1982 Asian Games that India hosted. The home side were knocked out by Saudi Arabia in the quarterfinals back then, courtesy a late goal.

However, the experience still remains one that is cherished by the man. Ali remarked, “It was too good. For me, the first Asian Games to play in India, it was bad luck that we lost to the Saudis in the last minute. Before that, twice I was discarded in 1974 and 1978. It was great to play in front of the home crowd in the top tournament of Asia.”

Acknowledging the up and rising football franchise from the city, Shabbir Ali visited the G.M.C Balayogi Athletic Stadium to watch Hyderabad FC defeat Kerala Blasters in the 2019-20 campaign. He even met Albert Roca there, who is set to take charge as the head coach of the Nizams in the coming campaign.

The revered footballer pondered upon that experience by asserting, “Yes, it was a very great feeling. I was very happy in the stadium and I took a photo with Albert Roca and one of the owners of the team too. It brought back memories of playing in Kolkata, Goa and Mumbai.”

He continued, “Hyderabad had come very late last season, with not much publicity and they didn’t plan properly. But, I am sure this year Hyderabad FC will perform well.”

It must be apparent by now that Shabbir Ali stresses on the importance of having a system through which younger talents can flourish. Reflecting on the same, he elaborated, “Hyderabad have conducted U-18 and other age-group trials, so it would be very good for the grassroot players and the youngsters to take advantage of HFC.”

Hyderabad FC won merely two out of 18 games last season. An improved performance in 2020-21 is vital if they wish to cultivate a loyal, local fanbase.

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