Japan’s rise is a testament to the fact that it is possible to scale heights in a couple of decades, if the stakeholders, players are willing to stick with the principles of development from grassroots.
PIOs : The right way forward?
Of late, many voices have risen in favour of the relaxation of the laws that prevent overseas players of Indian origin from representing the Blue Tigers. With not just West Asian teams like Qatar, UAE, but countries like Malaysia, and even Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan allowing overseas players to represent the national team and their respective federations actively seeking top players to represent their sides, the demands for the same to happen in India have risen manifolds.
When asked about inclusion of Person of Indian Origin (PIO) players in Indian team, India skipper Sunil Chhetri had remarked, “We have 1.4 billion people so have a bigger pool of players. It’s a quick fix for a shorter target, but in the longer run, we have to make sure that we keep grinding and finding home-grown talent.”
While countries like Qatar did enjoy success with this approach, coupled with the one ‘elite-academy’ strategy like the Aspire Academy, it is yet to reach the level, the benchmark set by Japanese football, who without a doubt, is the powerhouse of Asian football, with more than 450 players, playing for different clubs in Europe.
The rise of football in Japan.
It all started with the arrival of Brazilian legend, Zico, to the shores of the Land of the Rising Sun, as a player, to play for a club that would later be known as Kashima Antlers, after coming out of the retirement, to play in a country he adored, to extend his twilight years of careers. He then went on to become take over as coach of the Samurai Blues. As a coach, he made his players take ‘notes’ of the mistakes they made after their matches during training, and when they did not seriously take their defeats, made sure the players revise the notes right before they took the field for their next game. He even made sure his translator would yell out at the players so that the emotions behind those words weren’t lost.
The players too, were keen to learn and developed the hunger, desire to win. The J-league played a huge role in the rise of the footballing standards in the country, thanks to a proactive grassroots programme that acted as a catalyst to propel the well-structured league of the country.
And it no longer just enjoys the title of being an Asian giant. With the recent wins over Spain, Germany and making it to knockouts of the World Cup in men’s senior category, as well as in women’s category, the country is setting its sight on becoming a powerhouse of the world football.
Indian football can adopt the Japanese philosophy of football.
Indian national team, until 1970, had faced Japan on ten occasions, of which the Blue Tigers won six encounters, drew one and lost three. Since then, the team is yet to even salvage a draw against the East Asian nation, even at junior-age level or women’s category. Indian women’s team recent 7-0 defeat to Japan in Olympics Qualifiers is itself, a huge evidence of the fact that what once was trench of difference in quality of football between the two nations has now widened to a chasm that would take years to bridge, even if acted upon right now.
When J-league was newly formed, the stakeholders developed a ‘100-year vision plan’ for the league, till the year 2092, when it would be the hundreth season for the league. It aimed at creating hundred professional clubs in the country. Moreover, the clubs were encouraged to work at the local level in their cities and towns to bond with the locals and be able to acquire sponsors locally and assistance from the local administration, rather than relying on the national level sponsors that would come far and few in numbers. This strategy, could have ended up as a life-saving potion, for many defunct clubs in Indian football, like Pune FC, Bharat FC, Mumbai FC.
Also, they developed a three-tier system, that was made to simulate a European club football league, and increased clubs from 16 to 18 in the top tier, something that is still a distant possibility for the Indian Super League (ISL). The participation of youth in football at school, university level from amateur, semi-professional to professional level is a very smooth process that ensures players like Mitoma, go on to become national stars after starting at such levels instead of playing right from the academy level. In India, where academies are not so well-developed, an approach like this could help so many talents rise to the top.
Is it high time India should start replicating the Japanese philosophy of development?
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