Learning Indian Football from Iconic Midfielder Victor Amalraj
Former India captain Victor Amalraj, who spent 14 years in Kolkata playing for Mohammedan Sporting, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, is found to be quite busy in his Food Corporation of India (FCI) cabin at Hyderabad Agricultural Co-operative Association (HACA) building.
In an exclusive interview with Delhi Post News, the Hyderabadi, who scored 20 goals for Mohammedan Sporting, shared his thoughts on a range of subjects. From Hyderabad football to way forward for Indian football to current coach Igor Stimac, the iconic midfielder shared his valued thoughts in a brief interview.
Here are the excerpts.
Delhi Post: What is the reason behind football’s popularity in Kolkata?
Victor Amalraj: It is the culture that has kept Kolkata football alive. People love the game; they are crazy and live the game. The last time when I visited Kolkata, I was overwhelmed by seeing U-17 club football matches being telecasted regularly. East Bengal has felicitated all the ex-captains. I met Nassiri Jamshid and Majid Bishkar. I played with them and I played against them. They are two fantastic players. It is the love and passion that has kept Kolkata football very much alive among the masses.
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Delhi Post: What is the reason behind its downfall?
Victor Amalraj: But ever since Sourav Ganguly came to fame, football has become a secondary sport to cricket there. Apart from that, performance and standard of clubs have also fallen. I don’t hesitate to say cricket is the most popular sport in Kolkata now and football comes only second to it. Craze is still there, but clubs and administrators have to do a lot to beat cricket. ISL may help.
Delhi Post: What is the most remarkable moment of your career in Kolkata?
Victor Amalraj: I played in Kolkata for 14 long years when football was at its peak in the city. And I never missed a season. During our time, Kolkata used to be the Mecca of Indian football. People used to go mad for us. We can’t forget those moments. I enjoyed that atmosphere a lot. My career blossomed when I went to play in Kolkata.
Delhi Post: You are from the ‘City of Olympians’—Hyderabad. What is the reason behind football’s decline in Hyderabad?
Victor Amalraj: We couldn’t carry our legacy. Infighting, politics and visionless administrators have ruined it. 20-years of the court battle between two factions of Andhra Pradesh Football Association that ran from the 1980s to the early 21st century ruined Hyderabad football. City’s football legacy is now history. There is no taker. It was a big jolt to the popularity and legacy of Hyderabad football that put football into a coma.
But the current secretary G.P. Falguna is working hard to make way for Hyderabad football. He has been very responsive and trying to rejuvenate the culture of Hyderabad football. I hope the city will revive its football legacy once again. It may take time but I have the confidence in current TFA administrators.
I am the last man from this city who led India at the international stage. Mohammad Habib, Shabbir Ali, Syed Nayeemuddin have led India before me. But the land of Peter Thangraj, Syed Abdul Raheem has not seen anyone leading India after me. This shows how football declined in Hyderabad.
Delhi Post: Do you see football regaining its popularity in Hyderabad under the aegis of ISL club Hyderabad FC?
Victor Amalraj: Very difficult to say! I hope they (Hyderabad FC) will run a substantive programme to redevelop football here. People love football here. I have seen children and parents love the game. But to increase the popularity Hyderabad FC must infuse local players. I don’t see local players in the current team this season. The club also has to work with local administrations and have to engage with school and colleges. Academies need to be built to scout talents; It is a lengthy process. If they can take the responsibility, football will do well here. Otherwise, the change will not happen.
Delhi Post: Is AIFF not meddling with Indian football by giving undue favour to Reliance–IMG owned ISL?
Victor Amalraj: You can say it. But without business conglomerates’ participation, football will not survive in India. All top football playing nations accepted this reality; we must accept it too. In this regard, I welcome Reliance–IMG’s participation. But AIFF has to make sure that I-league clubs don’t feel ignored. Legacy and development should be treated equally. AIFF has to ensure all these.
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Delhi Post: You had been the captain of India. What is your best moment as a player and captain of the national team?
Victor Amalraj: Captaining India in international football is the most adorable moment of my life.
Delhi Post: What should be the way forward for Indian football?
Victor Amalraj: One league, participation of corporates, building academies, positive approach, treating legacy in a good manner. India has scattered infrastructure in some places but the implementation is not good. Age group competitions and inclusive development needed to keep Indian football moving. North East, Goa, Kolkata and South India have been strong pockets for India. In Subrata Cup, I have seen that infrastructure is there but the utilization of talents is not there. We must use whatever resources we have to make Indian football great again.
Delhi Post: How do you see Igor Stimac as a coach?
Victor Amalraj: So far I have found him (Igor Stimac) very dynamic. He is a World Cupper and an astute coach. Personally, the federation should give a coach at least three years of time to develop a team. If AIFF keeps the confidence on Stimac, I am sure the current Indian will do really well. This team has potential and ability. Stimac can build a strong team with his intent and expertise.
Delhi Post: On playing top-notch teams.
Victor Amalraj: We played big teams like Netherlands, Uruguay, Poland and Argentina at home. They were top-class teams. Now, such a tournament can’t be seen in India. Until we play big teams, our football will not develop. Playing bigger teams will always help you to improve.