NRI doctor takes up junior footballers’ cause

July 2nd, 2008 - 1:14 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 2 (IANS) Earlier this summer, when India were engrossed with Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket to think of anything else, an Indian doctor came all the way from the United States to take a closer look at the under-16 footballers. The young team made news by reaching the Asian Football Confederation Cup finals by winning the qualifier last November at Damam and their feat touched the sports enthusiast in Francis Saldanha.

Saldanha, 57, was impressed by what he saw at their base in Goa, got in touch with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and offered to arrange for a six-week exposure trip to Ohio, West Virginia, where the NRI anesthetist runs ambulatory surgery center in Charlston.

The lads are now on the way there for a six-week spell of training during which they will also figure in half a dozen matches with university and club teams.

A 1976 graduate of Stanley Medical College, Chennai, Saldanha, describes himself as a lover of sports who was “never competitive by any yardstick.”

Like so many other lovers of sports Saldanha was pained to see talent “drift away from sports for a variety of reasons, including financial constraints, lack of government support and training facilities. I could go on. It is easy, of course, to criticise and yet remain uninvolved.”

Saldanha also has played cricket, among other games. So why did he choose to offer his help to Indian football?

“Football is truly a world sport. Every country wants to make it to the world cup. But India can barely hold its own even among neighbouring countries. Which brings me to Indian youth football,” Saldanha said.

“The under-16 Indian youth team provides a glimmer of hope. Its successes are the result of better organisation, funding, training and dedicated coaches. I have watched its progress last year, which prompted me to get in touch with the AIFF and offer to host the team on a visit to the US. I spent a week in Goa and their fitness and skill were very impressive.”

In Saldanha’s opinion “perhaps the appointment of Colm Toal as technical director and chief coach of u-14, u-16 and u-19 teams may represent a critically important decision of the AIFF.”

Saldanha further hopes to establish a relationship with the AIFF and individual track and field athletes and coaches. “Perhaps well funded entities in India and abroad, many of whom are already active in similar endeavours, will continue to assist these youths,” he says.

Meanwhile, Indian soccer aficionados will hope that the under-16 team which coach Toal has taken to West Virginia will return home as improved footballers, better prepared for the stiffer tests in the AFC Cup finals in Uzbekistan in October.

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