With 2017 having ended, I, Arunava Chaudhuri (arunfoot) took a look back at the year gone by in Indian football in a series of write-ups on what all happened across the calendar year 2017 including the highlights, the good and the bad, and finally now I come to the outlook into the year 2018.
The new year 2018 is only a few hours old, but the expectations from it are high then 2017 has set higher standards in Indian Football with all the achievements over the 12 months of the calendar year.
Indian Super League/I-League merger
The biggest issue for Indian football to sort is the future structure of professional Indian club football. One thing is clear, the Indian Super League will become the new top tier, while the I-League and Second Division League will come underneath the ISL. The question that remains is if in 2018 this move will happen or only in 2019 as the ISL as Indian football’s top tier will most likely only happen once Mohun Bagan and East Bengal make the switch from I-League to ISL just like Bengaluru FC did last year.
The leagues running in parallel is working for the moment, but the deficiency in Indian football talent is one of the numerous things sadly evident from watching Indian Super League and I-League matches.
India U-17s/Indian Arrows
The Indian under-17 national team after their participation and commendable performances in the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup has caught the imagination of the whole of India. Now they are doing the same as the Indian Arrows in the I-League strengthened by some India U-19s, but in the end young boys playing against men and with each passing match the boys arre getting more and more exposure and experience, which will help their overall development.
In a good step, all players except Dheeraj Singh and the on loan Minerva Punjab FC trio of Jeakson Singh, Anwar Ali and Nongdamba Naorem have signed long-term three year contracts to stay with the Indian Arrows and develop further as a team, which should help India in future AFC youth competitions, be it Under-19 and Under-23s.
Team India preparations for 2019 AFC Asian Cup
After qualifying in style for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, Team India this year will have to prepare in right earnest for the continental tournament taking place in the United Arab Emirates in early-2019. Head coach Stephen Constantine and his staff will have their task cut out to prepare Team India in the best possible way for the tough challenges that the 24 team competition’s four team group stage would pose.
It will be interesting to see, if and how long the preparatory camp for the tournament would and who all India play in international friendlies in 2018.
The new crop of India U-16s – 2018 AFC U-16 Championship
After all the hard work in hosting the 2016 AFC U-16 Championship as preparations for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup with the India U-16s qualifying automatically as hosts, the next lot of Indian football talent have qualified on merit for the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship in Malaysia after finishing runners-up in their qualifying group behind Iraq ahead of Palestine and Nepal.
Now they need to prepare towards the final round tournament in Malaysia later this year, then the best four from Asia qualify for the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup and after the experiences last year, another FIFA U-17 World Cup with India playing in it wouldn’t be too bad for us.
There will be continued focus on youth development in Indian football, but there needs to be more focus on better quality coaching across the country with more and more kids playing organised football in India.
I hope you enjoyed this fourth and final part of the series! Now lets focus on the beautiful game and its development…