IANS Interview: We need more Indian strikers in ISL and I-League, says AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey

New Delhi, Apr 17 (IANS): After getting elected as the president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) in September 2022, ex-India goalkeeper Kalyan Chaubey’s tenure has seen the federation steer through a heady mix of success stories and downfalls.

Be it the men’s team winning three back-to-back trophies in 2023, a brief return to sub-100 FIFA rankings for the first time since 2018, or the promotion of women’s football in the country -- a lot has happened since the Chaubey-led new committee took charge.

Chaubey’s tenure also saw a string of poor performances in the Asian Games and the AFC Asian Cup, followed by the recent loss to 158th-ranked Afghanistan in Round 2 of the World Cup qualifiers, leading to the AIFF Technical Committee expressing dissatisfaction over the team’s progress under head coach Igor Stimac.

In an exclusive interview with IANS, the AIFF president spoke on a range of issues concerning the sport and its governing body in the country.

While he declined to comment on some of the controversies surrounding the AIFF that made news in recent times, saying the matters are still sub judice, Chaubey expressed confidence in the Federation’s quest for the betterment of Indian football.


IANS: The Blue Tigers are going through a long rough patch after a successful 2023. As the AIFF President, what do you think could be the reason for this sudden slump in form?

Kalyan Chaubey: The performance of the national team is not going in the direction all of us would like to see. There are a few things you should take note of.

There is certainly a lack of strikers in Indian football. If you look at the ISL (Indian Super League) and the I-League, there are not many Indian strikers available. And this is getting reflected in our national team’s performance.

In the last few months, India scored only one goal, and that too came from a penalty. Even in the last SAFF Championships, which we won in Bengaluru, our victories in both the semifinal and final came through tie-breakers.

We need to look at a policy on how to produce more effective strikers in the ISL and I-League. Having only Sunil Chhetri, Lallianzuala Chhangte, or Manvir Singh will not serve the purpose entirely.

IANS: How do you assess the journey of the team during your 18-month stint so far?

Kalyan Chaubey: Whenever we speak about the game’s progress in the country, there is always a tendency to judge it by the performance of the national team. It is also natural because the senior men’s team is considered the face of a nation’s football, not only in India, but worldwide.

The team was doing reasonably well for the past one-and-a-half years; they won three back-to-back tournaments at home, and even travelled to win a match in the World Cup qualifiers. However, the defeat against Afghanistan, that too at home, has come as a setback to our aspirations to make Round 3.

I believe that, at the moment, instead of saying what we are going to do, we should first see what we have managed to do in the past 18 months.

IANS: What are the Federation’s plans for strengthening the domestic football infrastructure?

Kalyan Chaubey: Before the new committee took over, the I-League was a two-tier competition with the second tier being a one-venue tournament. This year, I-League 2 was a much broader competition with I-League 3 being introduced for the first time.

When we took charge, the number of teams in the I-Leagues was limited. Now the participation of various clubs in all three tiers has increased considerably. There are always 20-25 clubs, which are eager to join the show.

After this committee took charge, a major push was given to improve the game at the grassroots across the country and make the state associations more active. As a result, now a large number of states have started holding their own state leagues.

The number of teams has increased significantly across the country, and hence there is a rush to play in the leagues held at the national level. That 25 teams played in I-League 3 this season is a record of sorts.

Also, in October last year, two workshops on scouting were organised by Arsene Wenger’s team which were attended by 30 ex-coaches and 30 former players in two batches. After the workshops, they identified six ‘super scouts’, who will travel across the country spotting more scouts. The idea is to make sure that one scout is present at every tournament in the Tier-2 cities to identify new talents.

IANS: There has been a push to promote women’s football in the country. Your take…

Kalyan Chaubey: Promoting women’s football is in the priority list of the new committee. While a huge amount of money has been pumped into women’s football, the home and away format of the Indian Women’s League has brought a sea change in the standards of the game.

Now all games are streamed live on AIFF’s official platform, which has a huge following.

Also, Indian Women’s League 2 has been introduced for the first time which is a bold move, as spreading women’s football has never been easy. In the very first year, 15 teams have agreed to take part in IWL 2 despite many hurdles.



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Title: IANS Interview: We need more Indian strikers in ISL and I-League, says AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey

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