INDIAN FOOTBALL LEGEND S.S. Hakeem believes the I-League and Indian Super League (ISL) are not capable of developing and taking the sport forward in the country.
"This I-League, ISL will never do anything. If these do not end and new tournaments do not come about, Indian football is not going anywhere. If you ask me, they should not even exist. New tournaments should be started," Hakeem, who was part of the Indian team that participated at the 1960 Rome Olympics and belongs to the golden generation of players of 1950s and 1960s, told IANS in an interview.
Hakeem, who is the son of legendary football coach Syed Abdul Rahim, rued the lack of tournaments currently, something that has been on a steady decline, also leading to the downfall of the sport in India.
"You don't even have a good tournament in Delhi. What is the use of ISL or I-League. Encourage tournaments in every district. In my time, I used to play 30-35 tournaments a year... where are they now? How many tournaments do we have today?" asked Hakeem, who was served in the Indian Air Force from 1962 to 1983, retiring as a squadron leader.
"Quality comes out of quantity but where is the quantity? Switzerland had 10,000 tennis courts, then one Roger Federer came out. Earlier, small teams used to play in the Durand Cup. There were 50 tournaments to play but now teams do not have tournaments to play. Mohun Bagan and ISL do not produce players, it is done by smaller teams," he said.
Hakeem, who was also a FIFA referee from 1974 to 1989, added that the talent pool is too less today because of the lack of tournaments for players. And with such a small pool, India cannot be expected to produce a world class team.
The Hyderabadi is also livid about shifting the world's third oldest football tournament -- Durand Cup -- from the national capital to Goa.
"Why the hell did you send Durand Cup to Goa? Will they remove FA Cup from London? Can Wimbledon be shifted from London? The oldest tournament of India and third oldest in the world! You pick it up and throw it in Goa? What kind of a decision is this?" asked the 75-year-old.
He rued the present status of Indian football, adding that the current team can barely string together three or four passes.
"Our main asset back in the day was our skill. Players like Tulsidas Balaram, Chuni Goswami, Yousuf Khan used to make the Africans and Europeans dance, they would hardly give away possession. Today if you see, and I see very less of it, the Indian team can hardly manage three to four passes while the top teams easily manage 15-20-25 passes," said Hakeem, who was also the dean of the National Institute of Sports (NIS).
"Please ask the All India Football Federation (AIFF) how much money was spent from 1950-1982 and from 1982 to now, on coaches. What were the results then and what are the results now? Our Under-16 team recently lost to Bangladesh. Then our senior team lost to Guam. Pardon me for my ignorance but till the match, I had not even heard of Guam."