What ails Manipur Women Football?
By Dr. R.K. Nimai
From the time women football was started in India under an initiative of a separate federation for women football in the seventies, Manipur had been participating with success. Manipur was one of the strongest team then, competing with the likes of West Bengal, Goa, Karnataka, etc. Then in the nineties, the women football federation was merged with the All India Football Federation and is run by a women cell, which has become fairly active recently. AIFF is organising an I-League for women football clubs and the third edition was held this year. The qualified team from Manipur performed creditably winning the title in the 1st Edition, runners-up in both the 2nd and 3rd edition. However, the performance of the junior and sub-junior teams is worrisome. Is it because of Manipur’s inability to develop further on its strength or has the other states caught up and leaving Manipur behind?
Last year in the U-17 nationals, Manipur stood runners-up which were a shock to the football lovers of the state as we have been dominating for so many years. But this time, the result is worse. Manipur is not able to qualify for the semi-finals. Most unexpected and in fact as a responsible organisation, heads should roll. Many of the Managers of the World Cup teams of leading countries tendered their resignation when there is a quick exit of their team in this biggest extravaganza of football. But in Manipur nobody talks about it in the open though among the football circle there are raised eyebrows and sharp comments. But these do not cut any ice to those in the helm of affairs.
There are allegations of nepotism in the selection of the players of the teams and merit was not the sole criteria. Even the competency of the Coach is being questioned, who was alleged that the top players of the team was sidelined in the last match where Manipur lost heavily against Jharkhand 4-0. Besides, the positions of the players was completely changed, defenders were made to play as forward, and vice versa. It was not a stage for experimentation as the objective is to win the championship. If the coach does not have the charisma of a leader he will fail to inspire the team. And it seems that this had happened! The relation between the Manager and Coach of the Manipur team reportedly became from bad to worse and there was frequent fights due to the latter’s insouciance on the outcome of the result; perhaps being happy that he has become a coach of a state team! It was expected that after this debacle, AMFA will take the matter seriously and did soul searching to ensure that such an incident does not recur again. But there is total silence and we have not heard any discussion on the adverse result and steps taken to avoid in the future. Yes, in a match either team can lose, but Manipur losing to Jharkhand is a bit too thick.
Even in the senior level, which has a number of good players the motivation level had gone down among the players and many top players from Manipur are not joining the national camp due to difference with the coaches. There are no steps taken up to bring a rapprochement between the players and the coach by the national federation; rather after a report came out in the public, they instead of looking into the allegations of the players bought over the ring leader leaving her junior colleagues high and dry.. Same is with the case in Manipur. Most of the U-17 players are unhappy with the coach and his fielding style but none complained due to fear of penalising arbitrarily without looking into the overall picture.
Women football in Manipur is sustained by a few players, at the senior level the number of players is less than a hundred. At the junior level, the number may be bit more while due to grass root centres of both under AMFA and CML, Tata Trusts the number of player at the sub-junior level is much larger. However, the number of tournaments is too less as many districts do not conduct regular tournaments as the teams are too little. It was expected that AMFA will step in to fill the vacuum and recently an U-14 state level tournament was conducted. However, in this tournament there was little effort to contain stop age fraud with many over-aged players allowed to participate. Allowing over-aged players is a double whammy; it discourages the correct age players while stifling the growth of the over-aged players. It also leads to injury to the younger players which can put a fear psychosis of bigger players. Here also the selection of players by the spotters have been questioned in various circles; the spotters have not watched the matches in full and their recommendation is arbitrary, leaving out quite a few good players and including quite a few mediocre players. The coach for this team also had hardly any experience of coaching a women football team. The sincerity and commitment of the spotters is mandatory as they may discourage quite a number of good players because of their bias, who may leave the game entirely and join another game; the loss in football may be gain in other sports. About two decades back, there were two football players who switched to Taekwondo and now after being successful in the latter game was recruited in the CRPF where now both are Deputy Commandants.
Football is a very technical game which needs eye-foot coordination, where the techniques need to be taught at a young age while the tactics can be imparted at a slightly later age. The strategy of appointing the coach of the state team from amongst the coaches involved with clubs makes the selection process non transparent and subject to nepotism. There are a few coaches who usually tell players of other clubs to join his or her club and that he or she will ensure their selection in the state team or even national team. This is a sure way for the game to deteriorate. AMFA either does nothing or keeps quite when such malpractices came to their notice. This inaction causes the rot to spread. There should have been an immediate post mortem on the causes why Manipur junior girls could not reach even the semi-finals; and necessary steps taken to ensure that such a thing does not happen in the future. If the “chalta hain” attitude continues without taking responsibility the standard will continue to slide. Since football is the most popular game in the state; people are much more concerned about the results in this game. It was very sad that due to internecine fights amongst the office bearers there was a lull in the footballing activities in the state for almost a year. Even though the matter is not fully resolved, there is however footballing activities which are not bad as without tournament players will not grow and many players, especially men, will shift their base outside the state even to small clubs.
A sense of commitment need to be shown and the first step is for the President AMFA to quit his position as President, IWDFA as holding the two positions will lead to serious conflict of interest. The Constitution of AMFA should be amended to ensure that one person does not become the principal office bearers of the state association and the district associations. This will allow certain level of transparency and reduce nepotism. With the way things are going on, there is suspicion that things would continue to slide. People who are known for being middlemen in selling players to various clubs outside the state for their own financial benefit is getting involved in the management of the association, resulting in utter lack of confidence of the clubs toward the association. The need of the hour is to have close and positive relation and harmony between the clubs and the state and district associations. Even the relations between the state association and the district associations are not that positive with unnecessary posturing happening, which is not good for the game.
The opening of grass root centres by CML-Tata Trusts and AMFA no doubt is the step in the right direction. In fact AMFA should cause to organise in association with AIFF more programs for the training of grass root leaders so that the training become more mass based all across the state. The assurance of CML-Tata Trusts to establish a Centre for Excellence with the State Government support is very laudable and may bring about a change how football is developed in the state. Only systematic training from the appropriate young age can the standard be improved! Coaches need to be even brought from outside the country and our local coaches must be made to avail refresher courses to update their skills. It must be realised that the competition at the top is always tough and only a Usain Bolt is born in a lifetime. Hard work, identifying the correct talent, perseverance, proper training equipments and methods, etc only can improve the standard or maintain it and not publicity or sweet talks. If one cannot manage properly, the best thing is to quit with dignity.
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