By Abhishek Roy
New Delhi, July 10 (IANS): All India Football Federation's (AIFF) first professional secretary Alberto Colaco has a major disappointment as he prepares to step down after eight years -- not seeing India break into the top 100 in the international football federation (FIFA) rankings.
Colaco, whose tenure ends after the Nehru Cup in August, told IANS that his desire to see India in FIFA's double-digit ranking and among Asia's top dozen countries remains unfulfilled.
"One big reason for India's tardy progress is that they could not compete internationally as much as a good team should do and the lack of match-play is the key reason for their sliding to 147th place in the FIFA rankings."
Colaco said monetary constraints and insufficient preparation time came in the way of preparing the national team regularly and efficiently for international matches.
"Playing friendlies regularly would have easily brought us into the top 100, but we needed Rs.4 million to play a match. And then we just could not keep the team together for long for preparation," said Colaco.
Colaco says he does not want his work to be judged by India's recent success in the AFC Challenge Cup or in the Nehru Cup but wants to be remembered for the way he has streamlined country's football administration.
"With modesty I can claim that I have set some standards for my successors, but it is not for me to sign my progress card, it is for others to do it."
Colaco is sore that AIFF has constantly been projected in a poor light, picking on the under-16 age scandal, the dropping of the women's team from FIFA rankings and for the delay in the setting up of the Bharati Academy.
"I don't want to make light of these things, but then Indian football should not be crucified for this. We have been able to address the age problem by carefully tallying birth certificates with hospital records. We are working in tandem with the Asian Football Confederations (AFC) to eradicate this menace which is ruining Indian football at the grassroots level.
"As for the women's team, I accept that we should have played some tournaments in the last 18 months but there were hardly any in the region. And the results of the Asian qualifiers were not satisfying either. So, the executive committee decided that the focus should be on a developmental programme to build a strong national team," he said.
Colaco also allayed fears about the academy the telecom major Bharati promised to set up in Goa saying AIFF's acting president Praful Patel is looking into the ambitious project, which was to start last year, as it is stuck over land transfer.
"I can assure you that the project is still on and we also have the option of shifting it to Haryana," he said.
On the lack of infrastructure, Colaco lamented that since football is not a priority sport in India, it will be tough to built dedicated stadiums.
"Football is no longer a priority sport in India and so it is played in multipurpose stadiums, the Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi being the lone exception."
Colaco, however, said if football was a part of the Commonwealth Games, some infrastructure would have come up in Delhi.
"It is so strange that despite football and cricket tracing their origin to England, they are not in the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games. If football was the part of the Games, we would have built a stadium with government assistance."
Asked why the big spending clubs could not get their own infrastructure, Colaco said: "Most of them face the problem of funds and hence they hire grounds on lease."
He added that the I-League clubs have two years' time to meet the Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) criteria of owning grounds and nurseries to train age-group teams.
"The next two years will be crucial for I-League. If we don't meet the criteria then we will miss the chance to qualify for the AFC Champions League."
Colaco wants the AFC to take into account the status of Indian coaches like Sukhwinder Singh, Shubhas Bhowmick and Shabbir Ali and they should be allowed to continue coaching the I-League clubs.
"We realise that AFC wants all the I-League coaches to have A license, but Sukwinder, Bhowmick and Shabbir's standing cannot be equated with a mere license. The AIFF is in talks with the AFC and we hope to find a solution soon," he said.
Colaco asserted Indian football is in for good times and he would wish his successor greater success as he could avoid the pitfalls he ran into and build on the edifice he has created in the last eight years.