“Deafening silence at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, India is just a penalty away from qualifying for their first ever Football World Cup. This is the moment the entire nation has been waiting for. The ball is on the spot, the pressure is building, this is it, and it’s all in or nothing now. The referee blows the whistle, India’s striker Aniket Jadhav lines up to take the spot kick…”
The phone alarm rings, that same nagging thought buzzing in my head and this is not the first time that I’ve had this dream. Every four years the whole world comes to a standstill for the world’s biggest football event, the FIFA World Cup. Even in cricket-crazy India, tens of millions of fans passionately follow the FIFA World Cup. I am among the millions of Indians who watch the beautiful game on the biggest stage, conscious that my country is not playing, yet.
I started watching football in the 80’s and have been a big fan of the game ever since. The ’86 and ’90 World Cups in particular have a special place in my heart and have given me some of my fondest memories – watching my favourite teams Germany and Argentina in action, the way Maradona dribbled past defenders with brisk pace and ease, and how Lothar Matthaus was an impassable force on the defence line. Football was and always will be more than just a game. The ninety minutes of sheer magic on the pitch made me forget that my country wasn’t involved…. I just thoroughly enjoyed every moment of every game.
My love for sport, especially football, got me to where I am today, working for one of the leading sportswear brands in the world. It’s been 30 years since I fell in love with the game, and while football has gained tremendous popularity in India over these years, we are still not represented on the ultimate stage. Owing to my extensive professional exposure and involvement in football, my love for the game has metamorphosed into a dream, a vision to develop India into a successful footballing nation and specifically enabling us to qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
How India is supporting young talents
To bring this footballing dream to life, I believe we need to drive four critical interrelated initiatives – Expand the base of young (under 14 years) football players across the country; build footballing infrastructure; create a pan-India platform to identify talent through structured youth leagues and tournaments; and build football academies to nurture the talent into world class footballers. While the development of stadia, academies, leagues and coaching programmes has gained momentum over the last few years, we need one spark to dramatically change the trajectory of football in the country – the emergence of an Indian footballing hero, who succeeds in Europe and inspires the next generation of aspiring young footballers to passionately pursue the game. The hunt for that icon is a critical step towards achieving our vision. Taking inspiration from adidas’ rich footballing heritage, we at adidas India are striving to play our part in building a successful footballing nation through our umbrella initiative, the Generation adidas Program. Our focus is to scout the best footballing talent in the country through several grass root events and tournaments and provide them with exposure to world class coaching and training programs. Over the last several years FC Bayern Munich have been passionate partners, tremendously supporting our grassroots initiatives. We partner India’s largest schools tournament, Subroto Cup and India’s top clubs, Shillong Lajong FC and Pune FC, and these partnerships allow us to get wider exposure to the emerging footballing talent in India.
With India set to host the 2017 FIFA under-17 World Cup, I believe we have the perfect springboard to nurture the next generation for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Over the next twelve years we need to invest in world class infrastructure, scout and train the top young footballing talent (8-14 year olds) to ensure we have a team ready to compete at the biggest footballing event. For now, I will continue to watch the game, just like I did 30 years ago, but will also work hard with my team to accomplish our vision, eagerly waiting for the day when we I wake up to see… “…thunderbolt of a strike! The ball went flying past the goal keeper into top right corner and India are through to the FIFA World Cup!! A moment that marks a new era for Indian football and the beginning of a great future for the sport in the country.”