What does South Asian football lack to rise to the top?

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It’s the FIFA World Cup Final 2022 in Qatar, and Argentina’s Lionel Messi wins the World Cup with 1.5 billion people from all over the world watching—a moment that marks another peak for the global sport. Football, revered universally, has the power to bring people of different beliefs and regions together in support of a team or individual they love. It is a game played by every country in the world.

However, South Asia, one of the most populated areas globally, comprising 1/3 of the world’s population, seems unable to compete on a global scale and clash with top teams. This raises questions about why even countries like Italy, not larger than most South Asian nations in terms of population, have achieved four-time World Champions status. This necessitates introspection followed by a comprehensive action plan.

What makes any action plans successful? The need of the hour is a well-rounded plan involving every aspect linked to the game with fine details and avoiding ambiguity. This article delves into some of the problems plaguing football in South Asia.

One of the most respected figures in football, Arsene Wenger, the current FIFA Global Football Development head, highlighted the shortcomings of football in these countries during his visit to India to open the FIFA academy in Bhubaneswar.

Wenger emphasized that while football is a technical sport, much of it involves simulation. Players gain experience through facing challenges, and therefore, they should be presented with maximum challenges. Wenger stressed the importance of providing tools for the development of kids between the ages of 5-15, as this is when a player’s technical ability is developed, while other skills can be honed in subsequent ages.

To improve the situation, it starts with the right identification of players, using proper techniques. While European football has embraced scientific methods such as data analysis, making it more systematic and reducing the margin for error, South Asian countries need to follow suit.

COACHES

Behind every great player is a great coach. Just as Sir Alex Ferguson played a significant role in Cristiano Ronaldo’s development and Pep Guardiola shaped Lionel Messi, having a high standard of coaches is crucial for player development. Unfortunately, the number of coaches in these countries is insufficient quantitatively and qualitatively. Despite being rich in human resources, quality coaching is not accessible to the masses and is affordable only for those in higher income groups.

This issue could be addressed by implementing different license categories, like UEFA’s A, B, and C licenses. This would allow for a qualitative assessment, filtering out good quality coaches to elevate them to the highest level.

REFEREES

The quality of referees is a massive yet underrated aspect of the game. Poor decisions by referees have often ruined games. To enhance the game’s quality, referees need to be developed to the highest level, officiating at the pinnacle of the pyramid, and even becoming FIFA-level referees for international competitions.

INFRASTRUCTURE AND TECHNOLOGY

In 2023, technology has left its footprint in all walks of life. From Billy Bean’s use of numbers in Baseball to data and analysis in sports, technology has become integral. However, its application in football in South Asian countries is limited. While there is no shortage of software engineers, very few are involved in the world of sports. It is crucial to involve more people in analysis and data. Coaches in Europe and the USA have embraced analysts to provide feedback on game strategies and weaknesses of players. Developing players and coaches requires world-class facilities, but the shortage of stadiums in these countries, due to factors like over-population, hampers progress.

Having state-of-the-art facilities, like the Claire Fontaine academy in France or Coverciano in Italy, is crucial. Implementing VAR in local leagues is also essential.

COMMERCIAL ASPECTS

European football’s commercialization sets it apart from its South American or Asian counterparts. Players even in top-tier clubs earn massive amounts, a trend not matched by South Asian countries. For many parents, football is not an attractive option as it doesn’t guarantee their kids’ future like a corporate job does. To incentivize the game and attract youth, there is a need to increase pay for players. The model of Ajax’s academy, De Toekomst, in synergy with educational institutions, where academic classes are attended in the morning and practice in the evening, could be adopted.

The same applies to administration in top governing bodies. A lack of proper professionals at the top, due to inadequate pay, restricts the governing body’s outreach.

As 2024 approaches, financial literacy is as crucial as football literacy. Most clubs are in losses, making it unattractive for potential investors. Learning from India’s success in cricket, there is money to be invested in sports if value is given to investors and the product is well-marketed. Governing bodies need to attract investors with new marketing and branding strategies.

ACCESSIBILITY AND COMPETITIONS

Accessibility to football is challenging due to socio-economic differences. Coaching is only affordable for those who can pay, and therefore, programs need to be designed to find talent at lower economic levels. Increasing the number of games played by kids, along with inviting foreign clubs to build more academies, would benefit grassroots football.

In conclusion, the most important virtue needed is patience. Changes cannot happen overnight, especially with socio-economic issues and poverty in these countries. With the internet and information available globally, football is becoming a household sport. Patience, combined with a phased implementation of changes, is key to the development of football in these regions.


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