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Ex-India midfielder Mehtab doesn’t buy the idea of holding Sanotsh Trophy matches overseas

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<br>For the first time in the history of Indian football, the semifinals and final of the Santosh Trophy be held outside India, at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from March 1-4.

The AIFF, under the stewardship of its President Kalyan Chaubey, has taken this step with an aim to restore the glory of past football competitions of India, which will in turn motivate the upcoming players by providing them with more game-time.

Four teams — Punjab, Karnataka, Meghalaya and Services — have qualified for the semifinals of Santosh Trophy.

Speaking to IANS on a range of issues, Mehtab said, “The AIFF may be trying to motivate the players and enhance the importance of Santosh Trophy by hosting the knockout matches in Riyadh. But I feel the matches should have been hosted somewhere in India where people would have thronged the stadium to watch live action, for example in Kerala. Nothing can motivate the players more than playing in front of fans in a packed stadium, which is unlikely to happen in Saudi Arabia.”

The former defensive midfielder, who played for both the Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, besides donning the national jersey 33 times between 2005 and 2015, said, “Also, a full stadium makes a bigger impact on TV viewers as well. Tell me, how many people will go to see a match in Saudi Arabia. Will it look good if the footballers play in an empty stadium?”

Mehtab also emphasised on proper marketing of football in India.

“We must hold the important matches in places where people will come to see them, where there is a craze for football, for instance in Kerala, West Bengal, Northeast states, Goa or even Bengaluru. This will work in two ways — first, it will motivate the players, and secondly, the federation will earn from the matches.

Mehtab also doesn’t seem to buy the idea that hosting matches in Saudi Arabia will improve the standard of Indian football.

“We need to start at the school level. The sport should be made compulsory in schools, just like in Europe and other top football playing nations. The Central and state governments should also be involved in this.

“Without going against anyone, bringing great payers like Pele, (Diego) Maradona or (Lionel) Messi to the country will not help Indian football. What we should do is follow the model of football practised in the countries which the greats of the game represent. In the ’60s, Japan was not ahead of us in football, but now they are playing in the World Cup. So we should follow the football model of Japan,” Mehtab said.

“Instead of spending money on such initiatives, we should spot and nurture talented players from a young age, say 10, so that their bone weight, muscle strength etc. are enhanced. European, African and even top football playing Asian nations are much ahead of us on these aspects.

“Because of their superior muscle strength and lungs power, these foreign players can run with the same intensity for 90 minutes, whereas our players’ muscle strength or stamina do not allow them to do that for more than 45 minutes, at the best 60 minutes,” Mehtab concluded.

–IANS<br>jc/arm

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