Patel: India needs a strong national team

Praful Patel, the President of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), paid a visit to FIFA headquarters on Thursday and had his first meeting with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter since his appointment nearly 12 months ago.

Mr Patel, who is also India’s Civil Aviation Minister, a member of parliament, a businessman and the head of several educational institutions, spoke to Blatter about the state of the game in his home country, the fortunes of the national team and India’s ongoing development programmes.

FIFA.com: Mr Patel, what did you talk about with the FIFA President?
Praful Patel:
This is my first visit to FIFA and my first meeting with President Blatter since I was appointed a little less than year ago. I congratulated him on his leadership and on the 2010 World Cup, which I was able to attend. I told him it was a magnificent event and very well organised too.

What other topics came up for discussion?
We also spoke about his last visit to India in 2007. I was vice-president of the Federation at the time and we set up the Win in India with India programme, which is now taking shape. We already have eight artificial pitches under construction across the country as well as three football academies in Bangalore, Sikkim and Andaman Island.

How is the I League coming along?
This is another huge undertaking. It’s up and running but there are some clubs who have yet to comply with FIFA and AFC licence regulations. We are going to make sure they do something about that before next year because we want to make our championship stronger.

India will be taking part in next year’s Asian Cup in Qatar. What are the team’s objectives?
Our national team is already hard at work. We’ve qualified for the first time in 24 years and we intend to make a good impression. The players have an eight-month training schedule, for example. We’re not lacking in ambition and I’d like to see us reach the last eight because the popularity of football across the country depends on having a strong national team. That’s also the reason why we are going to bring the U-19 team into the I League for the next five years. It will toughen them up.

What about development at lower levels of the Indian game? Which areas are you focusing on?
We are working very hard on developing football at grassroots level, which is another vital aspect in increasing the appeal of the game in India. We know that our infrastructures are too weak and we have now set ourselves specific objectives. For example, we are aiming to building five or six good-quality stadiums over the next three years.