Legendary coach Arsene Wenger on Tuesday committed himself to “digging out talent” in India and place the country on world football map, as he inaugurated the FIFA-AIFF academy. Former Arsenal coach Wenger, currently serving as FIFA’s chief of global football development, did not give any time frame when India would start producing “great players” but made it known that without proper grassroots development, the country will remain as it is now. “Our project is to identify talent in India, to put the best talent together, give them a good coaching programme, give them a good education and a good level of competition and make them great players,” Wenger said.

“Our huge effort is to dig out talent and make them as good as they can be,” he said after witnessing the signing of MoU between the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the Odisha government.

Fifty under-14 players — including 15 from Odisha — will be selected by the FIFA coaches in the first batch and they will get training at the academy for two years.

Odisha government will take care of the boarding, lodging, accommodation and education of the players, and FIFA will provide the technical know how and the coaches.

FIFA has already recommended Spain’s Sergi Amezcua Fontrodona — who was previously involved with developing football in China as project director — to be the academy head coach for two years and an Indian will assist him for a few months.


A foreign assistant coach will be appointed in four-five months.

“With such a huge population, the potential in India is huge, for you to be on top of the world. That is what we want to achieve together. How long will it take, I don’t know,” Wenger said.

“But one thing is for sure, if we don’t educate we will be where we are at the moment. With the quality of education, you get great players. Our target is to develop top level players here and get India on the map among the best countries in the world,” said the celebrated coach.

He emphasised the necessity of catching players young if the country wants to reach the top level.


“No country has more right over another country to be on the top of world. It’s just down to educating your children (in football).

“India is a country which has invested a lot in education. It is a job you have to learn like any other job. And unfortunately, it starts at a very young age, you cannot start playing football at 15 years of age, you have to start at 5 or 6 years of age.” Wenger made a round of inspection of the academy, which is up for running with top-class facilities. It was initially planned as an Odisha state football academy.

“We just visited the facilities, the qualities of infrastructure are great. We delegate our own coach and develop a system over the years.

“Hopefully in the future, we will be rewarded if we do well. Our focus now is give this academy first and get the first players out in three-four years who can play at the top later.” Wenger and his team took stock of the facilities at the academy like the dormitories, dining area, study rooms, coaches rooms and common areas.

AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey said that India can qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup on merit — through the players coming out of this academy.

India had featured in the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup as host country.

“Let us dream to qualify for the Under-17 World Cup on merit. We must try to become one of the best in the U-17 age group and thereafter we can think of becoming one of the top countries in the world.

“We will get our best national team in under-17 category in the coming three years.” Odisha Sports Minister Tusharkanti Behera said he hoped the academy will produce players who will make the state and country proud.

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