New Delhi: India winning the Nehru Cup trophy and Bollywood star Salman Khan's interest reflects the changing perception about Indian football. It is perhaps is the reason why a new generation now seems to be determined to carve a niche for itself in football.
Avaya Gujral is just 15 but he already has a career plan sorted out. Avaya wants to be a professional footballer and has already taken the first step towards achieving his dream.
Last year Avaya was one among 16 boys selected by Coca Cola to train among the best in his age group at an international camp in Portugal.
"The facilities there were great. It was a great exposure for us. We played alongside some of the people who are future stars," says Avaya.
This year it could get better for Avaya and his fellow players. The Mir Iqbal Hussain Under-16 national tournament will have the backing of Coca Cola.
The plan is to deliver some top quality players to India's Under-16 team by next year.
The tournament is for children of 12 to 15 years. We have also won the Nehru Cup. We are proud to take it forward. We will give best coaching and help build footballing culture for future," says Coca-Cola India President & CEO Atul Singh.
Moreover, now there are Indian heroes to look up to such as Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri, who have benefited themselves from playing tournaments of similar kind.
"We have played such tournaments too. Now they can feel like footballers," Chhetri says. Bhaichung adds that players who have talent can play at the highest level.
Also there is an additional bonus for this year's finalists as 16 of the best players get to participate in a camp during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
There may be many Under-16 tournaments in the fray that have been played for much longer than the Mir Iqbal Hussain Trophy but with plans of delivering by 2010, this one sure does promise a lot.
But can it deliver? Only time will tell.