INTERVIEW | I adore Messi, I am with Argentina: IM Vijayan – The New Indian Express

Published: 20th November 2022 06:30 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th November 2022 01:09 PM   |  A+A-
IM Vijayan (Photo | TP Sooraj, EPS)
The ‘Black Pearl of Indian Football’ needs no introduction. His passion for the sport and fire in the belly are the stuff of legend. Former India skipper and All India Football Federation Technical Committee chairman IM Vijayan speaks to Team TNIE on his love for Argentina, issues plaguing Indian football and more. Excerpts

What’s your prediction this time? Who will lift the cup?
It is too early to make a prediction. One can make a prediction only after seeing how the teams play in the first round. Even underdog teams such as Denmark have become highly competitive this time.
Who is your favourite?
I adore Messi, and this is likely to be his last World Cup outing. So I am with Argentina.
Have you been an Argentinian fan from the early days?
(Chuckles) I was a Brazilian fan in my childhood because of Pele. But, after watching Maradona’s game, I became a fan of Argentina.
Keeping aside your love for Messi and Argentina, which team do you think has the strongest possibility to lift the cup?
All teams are good and playing well… Teams such as France, England, and Germany are strong contenders. But, as I told you, my wish is that Argentina wins this time, and let a team from Asia win the next World Cup. It’s really amazing that a country like Qatar is hosting such a mega event, and it must be appreciated. I would like to see Qatar entering the quarter- or semi-final stage of the World Cup.
Do you have any favourites among younger players?
There are many young talents. Erling Haaland is one. But his country (Norway) is not playing in this World Cup.
Who are the players to watch out for this time?
I think the list is going to be as usual — Ronaldo, Neymar, and Messi. We would be able to spot the other players who could bring a change to their teams only after watching the first round of matches.
Besides Argentina and Brazil, which is the team that you follow this season?
I closely follow Qatar. Major teams such as Brazil, England and Spain should be careful while playing against Qatar, as it is their home turf. Also, they have nothing to lose.
Do you believe the India team would ever play in the World Cup?
I have been to many world venues, and I have always held the flags of Argentina during the matches. On many occasions, I have wondered when I would be able to hold my country’s flag and cheer for my country’s team in the World Cup. I hope it happens soon.
What is the main drawback of Indian footballers? Is it stamina?
Stamina is not the issue. Our players have the stamina to compete with players of any other leading football-playing nation. We lag behind because of our physique, when compared with European and Latin American players. There is one more thing… an 18-year-old player in a European country would make it to the World Cup team if he has the potential. But, in India, such a player won’t even make it to the national selection at that age.
You are now the chairman of the All India Football Federation Technical Committee. Have you devised any plan to shape the future of Indian football?
We need to select youngsters with good physiques. If such youngsters have a liking for football, we can train them to acquire skills. We are currently focusing on the Asian cup.
What about our football academies? Are they effective?
We have a lot of academies. But their current functioning isn’t enough to produce world-class footballers. Our academies conduct training during holidays… for 10 days a month. This kind of training won’t give us any results.
Now we have ISL. It was designed to ensure we get talented footballers from the grassroots level. Do you think the ISL has managed to achieve the desired results?
ISL has actually made us aware that there is football in India. Even the world came to know that there is football in India. But ISL hasn’t improved the quality of game played in the country. Through ISL, however, players have managed to make good money.
Despite a lot of opportunities and money, why is there a shortage of talented footballers in the country?
Yes, now there are plenty of opportunities for young footballers. During our times, we had to really struggle and slog to get a chance. I think, on the flipside, the abundance of opportunities is a reason for youngsters to become laid back.
Who is your favourite Indian footballer?
Krishanu Dey. He is a Kolkata player. I was lucky to have played with him for a club and the India team. I admire him. He was called ‘Indian Maradona’.
Who is the best Indian defender?
V P Sathyan.
Has Santosh Trophy lost its charm?
Santosh Trophy was prominent during our days. Now, with ISL and I-league, players are more focused on them. Now, only a few senior players participate in the Santosh Trophy.
Several European clubs have come forward to select youngsters from India by launching academies. Do you think this would benefit ordinary footballers at the grassroots level?
Foreign clubs will select players solely based on their performance. ISL has resulted in other major countries noticing India’s huge fan following for football. Kerala has got the attention of many European clubs like AC Milan. We think more such clubs will come forward to select youngsters. I think it’s a good thing. Those playing good football will definitely get an opportunity.
Many players from African nations come to play as guests in sevens football matches held in the Malabar region. What’s your opinion?
They are here to make money. I am not against it. I also used to play sevens, and even used to get suspended since we were not supposed to play sevens. But I loved playing sevens.
What’s your take on the poster wars between Messi and Ronaldo fans in Kerala?
Malayalis are crazy about football. Earlier, the poster wars between fans were only in Malabar. Now it has extended to other parts of the state. It’s good to see that…
How are the activities of your football academy shaping up?
Our academy is run by the police department, with the government’s support. We have initiated the procedures to make it a full-fledged one. A selection camp will be conducted next year. We are planning it as a residential academy for young footballers. The State Police Chief is its chairman. We are planning to organise selection camps at four places in the state, and the selection committee will include former players. We already have an academy at Malabar Special Police camp. But this academy is being conceived on a different line. We are targeting an intake of 50 youngsters in the first batch.
In Kerala, we now have two major football clubs – Kerala Blasters and Gokulam FC. Your pick?
If I take the name of one club, I will get a thrashing from the fans of the other. I like I-league matches more than ISL because they are much faster.
You have played with Bhaichung Bhutia. Can you recall your association with him?
We have had a good relationship, both on and off the field. He is a great player.
Bhutia entered politics after retirement. Do you have such plans?
(Chuckles) I am happy with what I am now. Many political parties have approached me, but I have said ‘no’.
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