The 2017 Fifa Under-17 World Cup was a serious competition for some, including the English and the other 23 teams gathered in India for a shot at the trophy. Eventually, Steve Cooper’s boys ran out 5-2 winners over Spain but the real winner was Indian football. Or was it?

The tournament was also a feel-good exercise for some, and none milked it more than ex-president of the All India Football Federation, Praful Patel. As India struggled to score on the pitch, Patel didn’t have any problem putting several through his and AIFF’s own net.

Spectators at some venues may have reached the point of ennui, but the AIFF supremo did his level best to keep the off-field entertainment going. Here are some of his best:

“Now let me tell you something which I tell almost everywhere as the audience keeps changing. India qualified for the Fifa World Cup back in the fifties, maybe in 1958. The World Cup was in Brazil. But inspite of qualifying they could not play as they wanted to play barefoot but Fifa could not allow as their rules were else…”

This statement given by the NCP politician at the World Cup draw in Mumbai was enough to give serious Indian football fans a headache. Let us deconstruct this for you:

India didn’t qualify for the Fifa World Cup, they were invited after a string of pull-outs. The 1958 World Cup was in Sweden, the 1950 edition was held in Brazil; it was for the latter that India were invited to.

The ‘Barefoot’ theory has been debunked and holds as much water as the Big foot theory. Akin to the Boogeyman, it is a tale that old-timers tell their grand-kids, to apprise them of Indian football’s supposed World Cup credentials in the 50’s.

Patel spent some time recommending Novy Kapadia’s “Barefoot to the Boots” to the media and even to the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino. Had he spent some time actually going through the book or even asked Kapadia, he would have known that the version most historians agree upon is that the AIFF had given preference to the 1952 Helsinki Olympics over the 1950 World Cup.


“Our aim is to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.”

Patel has emphasised this point several times over the course of the last few years. For those not fully acquainted with the ex-AIFF supremo, this can be explained by the concept of a multi-verse; a theory which states that there are several parallel universes operating in real-time.

One in which all of us live, the other in which Patel envisions that a team which finished bottom of their World Cup qualifying group for Russia 2018 will make it to Qatar 2022.

Sunil Chhetri, the captain of the Indian football team, expressed relief on social media after qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup in 2019. The captain of your national team expresses relief on making it to the top 24 in Asia and you expect to qualify for an event which has 4, at most, 5 slots for the continent?

Well, Patel must have some inside knowledge that us and Chhetri don’t have. Is the World Cup expanding to 144 teams? Is India planning to bid for a last-minute switch of the World Cup from Qatar?

“Till two years back, there was no football being played in Chennai.”

Where do we start on this? Do we begin with the inception of Netaji FC in 1946, recently bought over and re-christened as Chennai City FC? What would the legendary Peter Thangaraj, goalkeeper of the Madras Regimental Centre, which won the Durand Cup in 1955, have to say about such a claim?

We’re guessing the National Football League, which the Chennai-based Indian Bank club was a part of for 7 seasons (1996-1999 and 2002-2004) wasn’t really football, but some other recreational activity.

History, what history?

“There was no football in Punjab post JCT, so we allowed Minerva to enter the I-League.”

Minerva Punjab finished runners-up of the division two and should have qualified on merit after second division champions Dempo pulled out. Yet, they were made to pay a franchise fee of three crores for a corporate entry spot in the I-League. Sure, they were just “allowed” to enter due to Patel’s generosity and largesse.

“We had up to 12 potential venues for the tournament.”

Javier Ceppi, tournament director of the LOC had stated that nine venues were under consideration for the 2017 World Cup. We understand that Bengaluru and Pune could have also made it to the list, had things panned out smoothly in those cities.

But 12? We have no idea of these alternate venues which Patel claims could have hosted matches in the World Cup. Kohlapur? Shillong? Siliguri? Kalyani? The Gulmohar Park Municipal Ground in South Delhi? The vacant plot next to the AIFF’s office in Dwarka?

Nope, us neither.

“6 AIFF academies will be set up across country..., so that we can continue this pipeline.”

2012: Academies set up in Goa, Kolkata (later Kalyani), Bengaluru and Mumbai, under Patel’s supervision.

2016: Only one Elite academy, the one in Goa remains.

2017: AIFF’s general secretary Kushal Das complains about fund crunch at the federation.

2017: Praful Patel announces the opening of six more academies.

Robert Bruce did say “if at first you don’t succeed, try try and try again”, but we’re pretty sure even he would have thought twice before falling for the same foolhardy plan twice.

“India is like a continent.”

Come again? Is India about to enter the Indian Football Confederation? How many World Cup slots will Fifa allocate to the IFC?

“The Centre of Excellence will be ready in two years.”

“Over 500,000 people applied for a semi-final ticket.”

“One team in every group went out - doesn’t mean we’re lesser or better off.”

Patel clearly has a problem with the consistency of his numbers. While announcing that a CoE would be built, he had mentioned that the project would be completed by the end of 2018. Mere days later, the deadline had been pushed back to two years.

The figure that had been previously bandied about was that a million people had applied for semi-final tickets in Kolkata after a hasty re-scheduling. Patel promptly halved that to 500,000. What’s next, 250,000 or 1.5 million?

Lastly, but not least, yes, it does mean that India did not fare as well as the other teams. They finished 24th and last in Fifa’s official standings. It wasn’t one team per group going out as Patel claimed, a third of the teams exited after the group stages.

Niger and New Caledonia, also debutants, outshone the hosts. While Niger qualified for the Round of 16, the latter, a French colony with a smaller population than that of Mumbai suburb Bandra, managed a point against Japan.

It is all well and good commending the spirit of the team but it is important to be aware of the situation and comment accordingly. In Indian football, denial and delusion start at the very top.