Having an Academy Player in the starting XI always helps: Bhutia

Sayantan Maitra

Baichung Bhutia is the name any Football fan relates to when the motion of discussion is Indian Football. The 36-year-old former India skipper has plied his skills in several Clubs, which include the likes of Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.
In a freewheeling chat to www.i-league.org, the former Bury FC striker, presently ther Chairman of the AIFF technical Committee talks about the present Airtel I-League season, his thoughts about the future, and how he sees Indian Football competing with the likes of European Football. Excerpts:

This season, we have seen favourites getting beaten at the hands of lesser-known teams, while underdogs are doing big. Do you think this helps in grabbing more eyeballs?
We have seen four to five good Clubs this season and the competition is very open among them — in terms of the results and surprises we have seen so far. The Teams are also very balanced, and I believe this has been somewhat a change from what we have seen in the previous years.

What do you think of the new Under-23 rule which includes 2 mandatory players on the bench and 1 player in the starting 11?
I think this is really good. Having a young Indian Player in the starting line-up always helps. The clubs also benefit a lot through Academies and having an Academy Player in the starting 11 also provides enough options on a long-term basis.

Pune FC stay the sole Club who have passed the Club Licensing criteria. How do you think will it help Indian Football as a whole if all the I-League clubs follow the same path?
It’s really good for Pune that they’ve got themselves licensed but at the same time, I feel really sad that the other Clubs could not fulfil all the criteria of Licensing. Getting it done will only help Indian Football as a whole – getting proper infrastructure, setting up Academies, and so on.

Non-Indian players still have an edge over the National Players when it comes to topping the goal-scoring charts or even getting the Man of the Match Awards. How do you explain it?
I’ve discussed it with the Technical Committee that having four foreigners in the starting line-up is a barrier for some Indian Players to portray themselves well. Some Clubs could use all the 4 foreign players in their starting 11. We would want to keep three as the maximum number of foreigners that can be included in the Starting 11. This will surely give a better chance to Indian Players.

You’ve played for both McDowell Mohun Bagan and Kingfisher East Bengal. Who do you think has an edge as far as the season’s first Kolkata Derby on November 24 is concerned?
Derbies are always unpredictable. However, from what I’ve seen so far, I believe East Bengal have a slight edge over Mohun Bagan but anything can happen on a Derby day. Therefore, it’s difficult to comment who will have the bragging rights that day.

How are the preparations going on for your team, United Sikkim, for the upcoming Second Division League?
Our preparations are going well and smooth. Lot of local players are coming up, and I am happy to say that almost 90% of our team comprise of local players.

What do you think is needed for the Indian League to compete with the level of, probably an English Premier League, or a German Bundesliga?
Well, a lot of factors – proper investment, infrastructure, etc. I personally believe that the day we start having our own training grounds, we’ll start improving. As far as a proper time-frame goes, I can’t see that [I-League competing on at par with European Leagues] happening in a very long time.