Just like a monument is as strong as it’s foundation, a football player is as affluent as was his education. Football is on a completely new level these days. With coaches encouraging the kids and their parents to start early, the new benchmark age for imbibing football philosophy in children is six, yes 6.
And as the times are progressing, it only reflects to show how important starting early can be. With players like Luke Shaw making professional debuts at 16, the future of football looks fervent.
But the whole idea of getting players on a bigger stage at young age is not relatively ‘new’. As a matter of fact, the stepping stones of the program were set by FIFA in 1985 itself, when the first U-16 World Cup was organized. It was later in 1991 when the age limit was made 17, but the idea worked. It’s only right to introduce players to such pressure when the learning curve is the steepest. Make hay while the sun shines.
The inaugural FIFA Under-17 World Cup was held in China in 1985. It has since been held every alternate year. Nigeria came out to be the winners in 1985. Since then, the Eagles have won the competition thrice, making it a total 4 cups, which makes them the most successful team in the history of the competition. Brazil come in at number 2 having won it thrice. Surprisingly enough, Spain and Germany, despite producing the most adroit footballing talent in the world, haven’t won the tournament yet.
The last Under-17 World Cup was held in October 2013. It was again the Nigerians who came out on top, defeating the Mexicans 3-0 in the final. But the South Americans themselves are no strangers when it comes to producing excellent young players. Having won the competition twice, they came close to winning the third, but they were lambasted by the anachronous Eagles, who played out of their skin all tournament.
As you would expect, scouts around the world travel the lengths and breadths to witness these prodigious talents and they never leave empty handed. The names that have come through the competition don’t need any introduction. Almost every player that makes full use of his opportunities ends the campaign being tagged ‘special’.
Back in 1993, Italy had their golden generation in making. The likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Francesco Totti and Fabio Cannavaro all shuttled onto the world stage after the U-17 world cup back then. The same edition saw the rise of Nigerian legend Kanu who went on to play for Ajax, Inter Milan and Arsenal in his prime.
The 1997 edition saw the rise of a player who made people watch football. Ronaldinho was an instant hit at the tournament. His wicked wizardry and neat vision saw him standing a cut above the rest. The same edition also saw the rise of Spain captain Iker Casillas and Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez. Considering all the players that featured back then, it would be only fair to call 1997 – an edition of inevitability.
2001 edition saw Carlos Tevez and Fernando Torres rise to stardom, whereas it were Spaniards Cesc Fabregas and David Silva who made it count in 2003. German international Tony Kroos captained his U-17 side in 2007 and duly received a lot of praise for his performances. Brazilian ‘wizkid’ Neymar and AC Milan forward Stephan El Shaawary were the stars of the 2009 edition.
Some of the stars from 2011 are relatively unknown, but then not mentioning talents like Germany’s Emre Can, Brazil and Fluminese midfielder Adryan and Chelsea’s academy product and England captain Nathaniel Chalobah is no less than a crime.
With FIFA about to announce the hosts for the 2017 Under-17 World Cup on 5th December 2013, there’s a lot of optimism surrounding India’s bid. FIFA themselves encouraged the cricket-dominated country to table a bid and the experts believe that the chances are realistic. Though, they still face a tough competition from Ireland, South Africa and Uzbekistan.
With a population of 1.2 billion people, the footballing potential of the country speaks volumes. A FIFA affiliated competition will do wonders to the footballing architecture of India. A joy to the fans, a lifeline to the players – this could be the ultimate turning point for the beautiful game in the sub-continent.
With my heart palpitating as I write the last few lines, the excitement surrounding the bid is unexplainable. We could be watching the stars of future right in front of us. We could be witnessing history write itself.
For those who said, the country needs a push, this could be the answer. If it doesn’t happen now, it won’t ever happen.
I’m already humming, “This time for India”.