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FIFA, AIFF’s cooperation, strong desire key to setting up football academy in India: Arsene Wenger

Legendary football coach Arsene Wenger believes “cooperation” and “strong desire” between FIFA and AIFF will be key to the success of a central academy in India, for which he would visit the country next month.

Wenger, who met with All India Football Federation president Kalyan Chaubey and secretary general Shaji Prabhakaran last month in Australia to finalise setting up the academy, expressed he was “very optimistic” after the meeting.

“I would say that football is the most popular sport in the world and it looks logical that one of the biggest countries in the world has access to football development,” Wenger was quoted as saying in an AIFF release.

“The number is an advantage, but the organisation’s task gets tougher. 1.4 billion people, I’d say it’s a gold mine, but a gold mine, which, at the moment, we have not analysed or identified well,” he said.

“That’s why we need people inside the country who know where the talent is. This is why the cooperation between FIFA and the AIFF will be absolutely vital, with a strong desire,” he added.

Wenger hopes the conversations with AIFF to translate into success.

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“As per our conversation, the AIFF is highly focused and motivated to help us do that. I think we will do a great job together,” he said.

The 73-year-old said India can follow the example of Japan for ensuring growth of football in the country.

“I arrived in Japan in 1995. They started the professional league in 1993. But they understood very early that you need to create academies and education for young players, and did that programme very well,” he said.

“Look at them now, the boys as well as the girls. Japan are among the top of the world rankings. They are a good example to follow. They understood very quickly that education was the key,” Wenger added.

Wenger said apart from identifying talent, AIFF will have to “take charge” of education.

“Overall, it’s based on two things. First, it’s identifying talent. And then the quality of the educational programme and the coaching is absolutely vital. The AIFF has to take charge of the education with us and we need good cooperation,” he said.

“We will need to work together with the AIFF to identify the talent first. And after that we have to group the best with the best. Under that, you have the grassroots game for the whole country. The starting point is to identify the talent and put the best with the best together,” Wenger added.

The legendary coach plans to visit India in October to take matters forward.

“I’m happy to go and see how the work is taking place, and I’ve planned to go to India at the end of October, or somewhere around that,” he said.

Wenger said despite cricket being India’s No 1 sport, there is enough room for other sports too.

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“I don’t see why India would not be on the world map with the number of players. It’s a sporting country,” he said.

“At the moment, cricket is their number one sport. I have nothing against cricket. I was in England for a long time and I know how important cricket is to England. But there is room for other sports.

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“Not all the kids can only play cricket. We want to give them that opportunity. Football is a fantastic sport where there is no discrimination based on weight or size,” he added.

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