Coach Bob Houghton scores a point(Commentary)

July 6th, 2008 - 4:06 pm ICT by IANS  

By K.Datta
You may not agree with all that coach Bob Houghton has got to say, but you can’t agree more when he cries that the pace at which Indian football is moving is painfully slow. In fact, what is true of Indian football is also true of other sports and indeed most facets of life and endeavour in the country, including its march on the road to economic progress. The country’s former scientist-President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, makes no secret of his dream of seeing India become a giant world power and has set a 2020 deadline for that to happen. The main agenda of Indian football is to build a team good enough to qualify by that time for the Olympics and the World Cup. The slow, stuttering pace at which we are moving doesn’t augur well. One step forward, then one step backwards.

Less than a year after the 60-year-old English coach guided the Indian team to the Nehru Cup victory at Delhi’s tiny Ambedkar Stadium, prettily done up for the occasion, India were unable to hold their own in the SAFF Cup final in Colombo against Maldives, leading to an ugly spat involving Houghton and former coach Nayeemuddin.

Houghton, now two years into his three-year contract as India’s national football coach, said little new when he complained on the eve of his team’s departure on a training tour to Portugal that influential affiliates of the All India Football Federation were coming in the way of a quicker implementation of national programmes, obviously referring to the Indian Football Association, as the soccer body of West Bengal has always been known.

For as long as one can remember, there has been a clash of interests involving that body, its famous clubs and its league on the one side and the general national cause on the other. While saying this, one must hasten to admit that there is a following for the game in the eastern metropolis not to be matched anywhere else in the country. The winds of change began blowing with the emergence of new power centres like Punjab, Kerala and Goa and the professional I League.

The I League is the national league and there is no denying that states will have to subordinate their respective narrower agendas to the larger interests of the game. Professionalism in Indian football has come out in the open and it is no secret that top players like Mahesh Gawli of Dempo, Goa, carry a price tag running into eight figures and many others also being offered sums once unheard of. Urgently needed in the interests of thriving national football set-up is an attitude of accommodation. After all, it is the clubs who pay the players.

But the Englishman, for all his zeal to hasten things up and look after the interests of I League players, would be well advised not to ride roughshod. For example, it was rash of him to rubbish the good old Santosh Trophy. Where else are footballers like Raleng of Services going to display their talent? They, too, need a stage. Bob could at least have taken a look at him. Now, the likes of Raleng, for all the goals he scored at the Srinagar edition of the Santosh Trophy, may begin to feel that he had been wasting their time.

Also, Houghton better be more flexible in his views on the height of footballers. The average height of an Indian is about 5ft 6in. Two of his own team’s more resourceful forwards, namely Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri, are short men. As the legendary Diego Maradona couldn’t help observing in his column on the recent European Cup: “In a time when managers look for tall players, the shortest team won. Football is still played on the ground ”

Don’t be so impatient, Bob, if things are not moving as fast as you want them to. We Indians are like that only. We like to do things in our own time. For all the disappointment at not winning the SAFF Cup, I do know of players who want the man to stay on and carry on with the job he has been contracted to do.

(The writer is a vetern journalist and he can be reached at

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