Nothing against cricket, but football can grow in India: Arsene Wenger

Legendary Arsenal manager, now FIFA head of global football development, to visit India next month for launch of centralised academy

Arsene Wenger with Kalyan Chaubey (Photo: AIFF)
Arsene Wenger with Kalyan Chaubey (Photo: AIFF)

NH Sports Bureau

Arsene Wenger, a guru among football coaches, feels despite cricket being the ‘number one sport’ in India, there is always room for his beautiful game to grow in such a huge country.   

Now 73 and serving as the Fifa Chief of Global Football Development, the former Arsenal manager is likely to visit India next month as a first move towards setting up the centralised academy here in a joint collaboration between the FIFA and the All India Football Federation (AIFF). ‘’At the moment, cricket is their number one sport. I have nothing against cricket. I was in England for a long time and I know how important cricket is to England. But there is room for other sports,’’ Wenger said. 

Speaking in a lengthy interview to the AIFF media team, the man nicknamed ‘The Professor’ held court on his vision for the game in India and wanted to draw from his experience in Japan in the Nineties. ‘’Not all the kids can only play cricket. We want to give them that opportunity. Football is a fantastic sport where there is no discrimination based on weight or size. If you have good technique, you play,’’ he said. 

The AIFF top brass of president Kalyan Chaubey and Secretary General Dr Shaji Prabhakaran met with Wenger on the sidelines of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia last month to finalise the plans.

Opening up on the obvious question of what motivated him to take up the challenge to develop grassroots talent in a country of 1.4 million but hardly any footballing credentials, Wenger said: ‘’I would say that football is the most popular sport in the world and it looks logical that one of the biggest countries in the world has access to football development. I’d say that India is a sporting country, and I’m hopeful that we can bring great joy to children in India and have fun by playing football. 

‘’I’m confident because I believe that success is linked to education. We want to give the opportunity to educate young people to watch football in India,’’ he said.  

According to Wenger, there's a simple two-step process of developing academies in India. ‘’Overall, it's based on two things. First, it's identifying talent and then the quality of the educational programme and the coaching is absolutely vital. The AIFF has to take charge of the education with us and we need good cooperation,’’ he observed. 

Wenger felt that in a populous country like India, it’s vast talent pool is the biggest advantage but it also presents an organisational challenge. ‘’The number is an advantage, but the organisation’s task gets tougher. 1.4 billion people, I’d say it’s a gold mine, but a gold mine, which, at the moment, we have not analysed or identified well. 

‘’I arrived in Japan in 1995. They started the professional league in 1993 but they understood very early that you need to create academies and education for young players, and did that programme very well. Look at them now,’’ Wenger added. 

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