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With India Matches in Manipur, AIFF Wants to Set a Positive Example

By: Ujwal Singh

Firstpost

Last Updated: February 12, 2023, 12:38 IST

Imphal, India

Indian men's football team (AIFF)

Indian men's football team (AIFF)

India will play Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic in a tri-nation friendly tournament at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in the capital of Manipur, Imphal in March

It’s a crying shame that Manipur, the cradle of Indian football, has not hosted the senior national team all this while. Over the years, the state from the northeast has produced over 50 senior international players, men and women, and currently has the most number of players for a state in the Indian Super League (ISL), I-League and Indian Women’s League (IWL).

Referred also as the conveyor belt of football talent in India, Manipur’s love for the game and healthy popularity of the sport in the state is by default rather than design. There’s a football club in every nook and corner of Manipur. Regional newspapers every day are littered with news of one or the other local football tournaments, launched and run by locals. Thousands play the game every day, competitively, resulting in a healthy supply of professional footballers.

The senior Indian team is the ultimate dream for most of them, and soon they will have the national team playing in their own backyard. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has decided to host Team India’s next tri-nation friendly tournament against Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic in Manipur in March. The matches will be played in the capital Imphal on 22, 24 and 26 March during the FIFA international window. This will be the first time the India senior national team will be playing in Manipur.

ALSO READ | Tri Nation Friendly Tournament: India to Play Myanmar, Kyrgyz Republic in Imphal from March 22 to 26

While making the announcement, AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey said the decision was in line with the federation’s recently launched roadmap ‘Vision 2047’, to “take quality football to the furthest corners of the country”.

Elaborating further on the same, AIFF secretary general Shaji Prabhakaran told Firstpost that the federation also wants to thank Manipur for its rich contribution to Indian football by taking India matches to the northeast state.

“It’s a way to say thank you,” Prabhakaran said. “It’s not like we have just decided to host a game in Manipur. They deserve it. It will only help football become bigger there. It’s an opportunity to say thank you to Manipur for all that they have done.”

There’s another aspect that AIFF hopes to achieve by hosting senior national team games in Manipur, one of the best performing football states in India. The AIFF wants Sunil Chhetri and Co playing in Imphal to be seen as a positive example for other member associations. The messaging is clear; states, that successfully manage to grow the game and culture of football, can attract the national team.

“Yes. This will also show that as a state if you are progressing in football, you can also become an attractive location,” Prabhakaran added.

While AIFF remains committed to growing football across India and helping all member associations develop, more initiatives could make their way to the northeast in order to further strengthen the footballing culture and facilities in one of the best performing regions for the sport in the country. Apart from Manipur, Mizoram has also been regularly producing a high number of elite level footballers.

“Northeast overall as a pocket is very vibrant for football, however, for strategic decisions we need to take a stock of everything and we will be making deep dives for our research. But it’s (India matches) not a one-off, there will be other initiatives to bring in more value and to get the best out of the northeast,” the secretary general said.

“Coach education is one of the areas where we will like to focus so that there are enough coaches. They have passion for the sport, and if we add some capacity building they will be able to contribute in a bigger way. These areas are the strength of Indian football and we need to strengthen them further to improve the overall outcome.”

Taking the game to a new market could also open up new commercial avenues and help AIFF add to its revenue, but Prabhakaran said that is not the priority at the moment. The focus is on strengthening the footballing ecosystem.

“Revenue can be one of the outcomes of our initiatives but that is not a priority. Instead, the priority is to strengthen them further because of the potential that they have got and all that they have delivered so far. The local government is also very supportive of football and that is also an advantage,” he shared.

Speaking of the local government, while announcing the upcoming tri-nation tournament, Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh also spoke about the state wanting to establish a “top-class” academy with grounds and hostels. He also urged AIFF to provide the necessary assistance. Prabhakaran added that the idea is currently in the seeding stage and by March, in consultation with AIFF, concrete plans for the excellence centre, to be made by the state government, will be laid out.

“The chief minister himself being a former footballer wants to take initiatives that can leave a legacy. The state government there doesn’t have an excellence center and they rely on SAI. He wants to create an academy that can produce good players consistently. Currently, we are in the initial stage and by March only we will have anything concrete on this. But it’s a great initiative by the CM to create assets that will serve the state for a long,” Prabhakaran concluded.

The Indian senior national team’s matches in Imphal will be played at the Khuman Lampak Stadium which has a seating capacity of 35,000 and also hosts the I-League home matches for NEROCA FC and TRAU FC in the I-League.

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first published:February 12, 2023, 12:35 IST
last updated:February 12, 2023, 12:38 IST