The prominent personalities at the event spoke highly of the host nation and the quality of the action at the year’s extravaganza.
As the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 edges closer to the final, a wrap up press conference took place in Kolkata on Thursday with the likes of the AIFF President and Chairman of the Local Organizing Committee Praful Patel, Head of FIFA Tournaments Jaimie Yarza and LOC Tournament Director Javier Ceppi speaking to the media about everything related to the tournament.
The Three heads seemed pleased at how this historic tournament had gone through over the past few weeks and Yarza was asked about whether he felt that India is ready to host the U-20 World Cup in 2019. He said: “We could do it tomorrow, for sure! I’ve already spoken about how India can host a World Cup at any level, be it U-20 or anything else. They have the facilities to host big events. Infrastructure-wise, the ability is there to host bigger events and this country can be proud of the way it has hosted this event.”
He was later asked about the kind of feedback he’s receiving from the other teams and coaches, to which he answered, “Every team has shown their happiness and have told that the training sites were of top level. They were surprised at how good the facilities were because how it’s better than some places they’ve been. There were no complaints regarding accommodations, food or transportation as the facilities have been excellent.”
Patel was than asked about what Indian football gained from the tournament and he replied by saying, “This is a great moment for Indian football and gives us immense confident on not only hosting tournaments, but also realizing that we can actually build top teams with our own young boys.”
He and Ceppi were asked about whether there was anything negative to be taken by the LOC regarding the tournament, especially with the situation of a semi-final being shifted from Guwahati to Kolkata. The Director of the LOC answered, “No ground would be able to sustain the amount of rain that happened in Guwahati. The stadium has a proper drainage system and the Guwahati pitch is the best in the country as it was announced as such in the ISL last year. It was just a very unfortunate chain of events and we couldn’t have done anything about and it could have happened anywhere in the world.”
To this Patel added, “Such a thing can happen anywhere in the world. It can’t be taken as a negative for Indian football. Let’s look at the positive side as the match was not cancelled and went ahead as schedule.” Yarza also added that the only negative for him was that he couldn’t bring 48 teams to the tournament so that he could’ve stayed longer!
The AIFF President was then asked about the grassroots program the governing body is planning right now and he answered it by saying, “The process will be similar to the one we followed in bringing up this U-17 team. We sent out scouts across the country and we will continue the process. We will continue the pipeline and we may even try to go an age group below in the U-13 or U-14 level. Even the NRI kids can be part of the national team as long as they have an Indian passport.”
Yarza was questioned about his thoughts on the biggest legacy of this World Cup to which he replied, “I think the impressive general footballing knowledge of the people and how much they are devoted to the sport is their biggest legacy for them. The people have come in such big numbers and off all ages as well. Other things like the 11 Million project and the stadium infrastructure will also be valuable for Indian football. We had 130 TV channels which broadcast the matches in 187 countries and the whole world has seen that India is a footballing nation. The people are the real legacy of the U-17 World Cup.”
Patel further added, “I think the legacy will be a lot more investment in football. Those who are interested in investing in the game will come forward. The state governments have already started discussions on creating dedication football stadiums across the country. We will now find more and more people investing in the game and that’ll be the biggest legacy for us.”
Patel was than asked whether the AIFF has any plans on grassroot development for kids aged 7 or 8 years old to which he replied, “I never said that we will only look to develop kids aged 13-14 or higher. With all due respect to the present coach or the past coach, everybody’s suggestions are welcome, but what needs to be done on the ground is far different than just giving a piece of advice. The AIFF has to plan with the stakeholders, the state government and other governing bodies before implementing anything. It’s not only the job of the AIFF alone with the development and we want every state association to contribute to the development. India is far too big a country for the AIFF to be doing everything. Our grassroots means catching them young, as young as you can get.”
Yarza was asked what his advice would be to the AIFF for sustaining the big support for a longer time, to which he replied, “My recommendation will be keep on applying for major tournaments, keep this passion alive and keep the football developing in the streets, schools. I think they’re on the right path and they’ll keep on fighting to make football number #1 in India.”
Patel also added by stating, “I think Indian Football will only grow when we expand the geography of it to every place in the country. Chennai had no football in a coompetitive level till two years ago. Now they have one in the ISL and one in the I-League. I want to see in the next 3-4 years that there is a team from Central India, not only the Tata Team. There should be a team in Western India from Gujrat or Rajasthan. We brought in Minerva Punjab FC because there was no other team apart from JCT in the North. I think it needs to expands as it’ll also garner more revenue in that case. We need to expand the eco-system of Indian Football and bring in more money and revenue to the game.”
Finally, Patel was asked whether the AIFF gives a conscious effort at improving the coaching and refereeing standards in Indian Football to which he replied: “Obviously, you can’t just focus on the players benefits. The whole system has to work and grow together. We are working hard on that with the coach development program. There are a number of coaches being introduced in the country and there’s a good referees program. You will see results in the next few years.”
Finally, Yarza wrapped up by saying: “You see Javier(Ceppi) is the only foreigner in the Local Organizing Committee. Otherwise all are Indians and that will happen with the referees and coaches soon as well. I think India will benefit from this tournament and there will be only Indians who are responsible with hosting the major tournaments in the future.”