Goa: The first-ever Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL) is a stepping stone for the next generation of footballers in India to showcase their skills, and the country needs more such competitions on a regular basis to unearth the next batch of Sunil Chhetris, feels Jamshedpur FC’s Carlos Santamarina.
The inaugural RFDL involving seven Hero Indian Super League teams and a team from Reliance Foundation Young Champs (RFYC) kicked off in Goa on Friday with the eight sides completing their first rounds of fixtures on Saturday. Jamshedpur recorded a clinical 3-0 win over Mumbai City FC and are currently top of the points table.
Former Atletico Madrid youth coach Santamarina, who has been looking after the development of young footballers in Jamshedpur for the last three years, said while he is happy that the players have got such a platform to express themselves, there needs to be more game time for them to really graduate to the next level and playing the ISL more regularly.
“It’s great. India did not have enough good tournaments for these young boys. When I joined here, I felt the boys in our academy were not ready for playing ISL after finishing (their time) in the academy. The level of the league is increasing, so I feel Indian football really needs leagues like these, congratulations to all for making it work,” he said on the sidelines of a meet on Sunday.
“I think it’s the first step, you have to continue with this and try to increase the number of teams. This will for sure help increase the level of Indian football.”
Santamarina, who has coached kids of the U-15, U-14, U-13, and U-12 age categories, reasoned that while Sunil Chhetri has done wonders for the country, there needs to be enough opportunities for the potential future stars of Indian football to strut their stuff.
“The youth is the future. Sunil Chhetri is a legend here in India, but the future is not Sunil Chhetri. He did great things for India, but now you need to improve level of the youth,” he said.
“The youth needs help and leagues like these only help in the cause. I feel if they don’t get enough game time in the main team, let them play in the reserve team. Why not? It is very important that at this age group, they keep on playing more and more games,” said the 45-year old.
The added bonus for teams that finish in the top two at the end of the league will be given the chance to participate in the Next Gen Cup to be hosted in the United Kingdom for the first time later this year. The two teams from here will be joined by selected PL Club youth teams, providing Indian players the chance to experience playing in the UK and competing against academy sides from the most-watched football league in the world.
“It will only help them. In Spain, a child starts from five years old and gets as many as 30-38 matches every season, playing in regular leagues. So with all this exposure, these boys are getting with good competitive games, it’s fantastic,” said Santamarina.
“At this age, these boys need to play as many games as possible. It’s good that young players did well in the ISL this time, they need more game time and opportunities to play,” he added.