National Chronicle

Indians should raise bar & compete with foreigners: Gokulam owner

New Delhi,  His team Gokulam FC won the Durand Cup in 2019 to bring Kerala back into the footballing map of India, but V.C. Praveen doesnt wish to sit on past laurels. He now wants not just players from his club, but also other Indian players to compete with the best foreign players who ply their trade in the country.

National coach Igor Stimac had recently spoken about the need to reduce the number of foreign players in Indian leagues. In fact, he was also supported by Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic who believes it is important to have more Indian players in the leagues if Indian football has to rise to the next level.

Speaking to IANS, Praveen said that while the two stalwarts calling for more Indian players in the leagues is proof enough of what football in the country needs, he also urged the Indian players to rise to the challenge that awaits if they are to compete with the best of foreigners that ply their trade in this country, across the I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL).

“We need to respect the idea of our national coach who wouldn’t have suggested that without in-depth analysis of Indian football. The AIFF should ensure that the number should be uniform for both the I-League and the IISL. But, while reduction in number of foreign players certainly paves way for Indian players to shine, they (Indians) should raise their bar and not only compete, but also outperform the foreigners, he explained.

Elaborating further on the need to have quality players in the first place, Praveen gave the example right from the initial stages of the National Football League (NFL). He believes that efforts should be made to scout talents at a young age and working at the grassroots level is a must.

“Let us not mix clubs’ recruitment policies with national team selection. During the initial stages of the NFL, when there was a reduced intake of foreigners, Bhaichung Bhutia (96-97) and Raman Vijayan (97-98) were the only top scorers in the league. After the number of foreign recruits increased, there have only been foreigners who have been top scorers except for the 2013-14 season when Sunil Chhetri ended at the top. To be precise, in 25 years, only three Indian players emerged as top scorers,” he said.

“In my opinion, quality players need to be scouted and nurtured in a systematic way i.e from grass roots to youth development and then on to the professional circuit. Clubs will stick to the numbers advocated by the AIFF.”

Quite a number of domestic tournaments have been shelved over the years and Praveen feels that if the old tournaments like the IFA Shield, Rovers Cup and Super Cup among others can be revived by the AIFF, it will give Indian players enough game time. As far as the I-League is concerned, Praveen believes the AIFF road map is clear.

“The champions of I-League 21-22 will be promoted to ISL 22-23. We wish the pandemic ends soon and AIFF will stick to its plan,” he said.

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