India is just a little over a month away from the U-17 FIFA World Cup starting from October 6, which will run until October 22. The marquee youth tournament is the first of its kind in India. Following the inception of the franchise based Indian Super League (ISL), where Indian players rub shoulders with yesteryear international heroes -- this is the biggest tournament India will ever host. The 17th edition of the FIFA youth championship, which is a biennial competition, will be a 24-team event.

With only two months left, six Indian cities speeded up their last minute preparations to avoid any mishap. Six Indian cities are: Kolkata, Guwahati, Kochi, Margao, Mumbai and New Delhi. The final will be played at the iconic the Swami Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata.

A special moment for Indian players and fans

This tournament will apparently teach India an important lesson about football. It will also offer India’s young footballers an opportunity to play with the future stars of world football. The 16-day event will also be a special moment for the Indian fans, who will enjoy quality football sitting from the stadium which they had never enjoyed, because many great football playing nations like Italy, Spain, Brazil, France, England, Germany and many other teams will land in India to lock horns for the coveted yellow metal. This is the tournament which in the past had seen the rise of ‘Prince of Football’ Diego Maradona, who later went on to win two World Cup titles for Argentina and won hearts of millions of fans.

Indian football fans, no doubt, will show the world how this cricket crazy nation loves the world’s most popular sports football -- otherwise, a popular song called ‘football is the best of all sports’ (Sab Khelar Sera Tumi Football) can’t exist in this country.

An archaic system

However, India as a nation failed to portray itself as a good football playing nation. The quality of football that India plays is very poor and has left many renowned footballers stunned. In 2009, when young Thomas Müller visited Kolkata with U-19 Bayern Munich to participate in the Calcutta Premier league (CPL), he was surprised with the standard of the East Bengal team. He said that they should play in the fifth division of the German league.

In 2008, FIFA had granted India a huge fund for building academies, but AIFF after launching academies with much fanfare didn’t maintain them. Hence, those academies are now obsolete and sported archaic looks and infrastructure.

Emergence of ISL

In 2013, in IMG-Reliance AIFF found a partner who decided to gamble Rs, 700 crores in Indian football with a noble objective to change the shabby look of football in the nation. AIFF's intent for academics and quality football were fulfilled because ISL promised a lot to them. Since 2014 AIFF thought they would sit on the sofa of cash, but by 2015 they have empty coffers. ISL is yet to fulfill their promise to build academies in each Indian city. So, the chasm between Indian football and glitzy ISL has widened. Indian football is yet to be benefited from the ISL because ISL franchises are yet to embrace the Indian grassroots football.

With archaic thought process and infrastructure of yesteryear, a county can’t rise atop. Many people may question how India as football team rose to 96th place from 171st position in FIFA rankings. That has happened because India had played many matches against lower ranked teams, who are also struggling at home.

However, hope still exists with big European clubs are gradually strengthening their feet in India considering their big fan base. The U-17 World Cup can work as a bridge between Indian football, a sleeping giant, and football’s best to erect their tents in India. The cash-rich ISL has already raised concern in European football as legendary Arsenal coach Arsène Wenger said that the day is too far when English Premier League (EPL) would lose its talent pool to the Indian Super League (ISL).

Yes, he is right because ISL, if it fulfills its promises, can attract the European footballers with the money like its Chinese counterpart Chinese Super League (CSL). The CSL has already become a big threat to European football as it snatched big players like Didier Drogba who played in the league in 2012 leaving Chelsea. But, unlike China, Asian giant India is yet to install a brand new infrastructure and build football academies. Once, former FIFA head Sepp Blatter visited Kolkata where a journalist asked him whether Indian clubs follow Manchester United and Chelsea like youth academies. In reply, agitated Blatter told the journalist to follow China first, and then think about Europe.

India should learn the important lesson of how to play football

Now, it is expected that this U-17 World Cup will help India in many ways. It will not only help India to strengthen its feet on a commercial aspect but also help the youth to groom themselves to become better players. To make this reality, AIFF have to roll out a method to utilise the expertise of overseas coaches and technique of footballers which can be useful for Indian football. It is a well-known fact that a big tournament always helps a country to sport a changing look.

But, haughty AIFF mandarins just eight months before the World Cup showed the exit door to India U-17’s former German coach Adam Nicolai for the Indian Colts’ lackluster performance in Russia during the Valentin Granatkin Memorial Tournament, a 16 team event.

India had finished at the bottom of the tournament. Without going into the details to find out the reason for the awful performance AIFF went on to sack the coach. However, under the new coach, Luis Norton de Matos India U-17 played a 1-1 draw against Chile in South America during the exposure trip.

India U-17 team played many exposure trips in Germany, Iran, Spain, and Russia and now in South America in the buildup to the U-17 World Cup. But, until AIFF’s officials -- who don’t love football -- build the infrastructure and change their mindset, India will never be able to prove themselves as a good football playing nation.

What should AIFF do?

Hence, this youth World Cup is the best opportunity for AIFF and Indian football to sport a changing look. There is hardly any doubt that India will benefit from the tournament technically as well as commercially. Meanwhile, FIFA is all set to beef up the number of teams in the World Cup, hence India should grab the chance and set a target to play the World Cup but for that, they have to overhaul the domestic infrastructure and administrative system. AIFF also have to make sure all Indian clubs build residents’ academies where young footballers will learn football while continuing their study.

The current AIFF mandarins don’t have any vision and they are very sluggish in taking key steps while running the Indian football. Their paralysed policies are also the reason that the Indian football went down to its worst conditions from the rising best in the 1950s and 1970s. So, AIFF must look back at them before they roll out the plan for infrastructural and administrative reforms, and they should start that before the FIFA U-17 World Cup starts.

For AIFF this tournament is going to be a big challenge as they have to host it smoothly so that FIFA feels satisfied and looks at India as a prospect for the future. If India manages to run this tournament successfully FIFA will offer India many other marquee tournaments in future.