A perennial problem in Indian football has been the lack of goal-machines. While there have been stars like IM Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri, there has never been a pool to pick from. The last time India had a fearsome partnership was when Bhutia and Chhetri were playing together. And Bhutia, the face of Indian football on the world map, believes it is a cause for concern.
Speaking to IANS, Bhaichung Bhutia not only threw light on the lack of a striker who can fill Sunil Chhetri's boots once he calls it a day, but also said that just like in Indian cricket, former players can come in to make a difference and help Indian football grow from the grassroot level.
Two names that immediately come to mind who could have formed a compact partnership with current skipper Chhetri in the front half are Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh. But both failed to create the impact expected of them and Bhutia feels injuries did play a role.
"It is a big worry because after Chhetri there is nobody else. It is very difficult to answer why they (strikers in Indian football) are losing their way. Consistency, I think, is very important. Jeje suffered lots of injuries and now his age (29) is also not in his favour. However, Jeje has done a good job. I think it's injury that is the main reason. Balwant also suffered because of injuries," the former India skipper said.
Bhutia goes on to add that the two didn't even get to play much due to their injury woes. "That is what I am saying, they didn't get to play because of their injuries. But then it's very difficult to say why they lost their ways. And I will say it is very important to be consistent," he said.
Does Bhutia feel that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) can have a role to play in helping produce strikers? The former striker feels there isn't much that AIFF can do in this regard at the top level.
"Federation can't do much. Clubs are paying the salaries and they would want to win trophies and they want players to perform. Since the clubs are paying the salary, federation cannot tell them you have to play this or that player. They cannot say unless they are willing to pay their salaries," he explained.
But creating a pool could definitely be an option feels Bhutia because all the clubs are facing this problem and there is set to be a dearth in a top-quality striker once Chhetri hangs his boots.
"Definitely, I think. Lack of strikers is a problem. It depends on the clubs because everyone is facing this problem. Yes, there will be (a dearth post Chhetri). It is a big worry because after Chhetri there is nobody else. We need to focus more on the strikers from the grassroot level. Special training program for strong attacking technique from the grassroot," he explained.
Asked if the AIFF can follow the footsteps of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and get former players to come into the system just like a Rahul Dravid (in charge of the NCA and the India U-19 team) or Sourav Ganguly (BCCI President), Bhutia said it could be an option for sure. "If capable they should, why not? It's not easy, it's difficult. But if they can do it, they should come forward," he signed off.