I have a dream that one day India will become one of the top 32 nations in football.
That's it: Mission Top 32. That would be the vital tipping point that would make football more popular than cricket in India.
Now that might seem like a silly dream.
We have been world champions in cricket and hockey. An Indian is the chess world champion. We have won tennis doubles grand slams. Indians have also scaled the summit in badminton, billiards, snooker, archery… We even won a shooting Gold at the last Olympics. But for Football, the top 32 would do quite nicely.
In case you haven't guessed already, that's what it takes to even participate in a FIFA world Cup. And participating is more than enough.
Remember that only seven countries have won a World Cup. Yet the FIFA rankings go beyond 200! (India currently rank 133)
The whole world loves playing football and they don't care if they never win a major tournament. (Of course, for the actual qualification, you have to make it to the Top 4 of the Asian Football Federation. That's where we finished 28th, so it does seem like a Herculean task)
The importance of football
If you've played all the major games, then you'll know that nothing rivals football, not even cricket.
All you need is a ground and ball.
Any number of people can play it. You can even play alone for hours on end.
It builds your stamina and team spirit like no other game and rouses passions rivaling none. Nothing channels spare time and negative energy like a ball between your feet and it's sad that the game is hardly played in India. (OK, the support it has is fanatical in pockets, but overall, India looks like it has given football a miss)
Images: World Cup opening concert
Will India ever get a chance?
What would it take to have India participate in the ultimate FIFA tournament?
It seems funny that a country of one billion cannot produce a worthy squad.
Interestingly, our Golden Age of Football was from 1950 to 1962.
In 1950, we qualified for the World Cup, but withdrew due to lack of shoes. (Farcical, isn't it?)
In 1951, we won the Gold Medal at the Asian Games.
In 1956, we reached the semi-finals at the Olympics.
We also qualified for the 1960 Olympics.
In 1962, we won the Gold Medal at the Asiads again.
All of it quite impressive when you look at the scene in 2010!
Catch 'em young
So what do we need to do to get back there again?
While the game, rules and equipment of football are all quite elementary, the strategy and stamina, strength and skills of top players are not.
The only way to build a football team is to catch 'em young.
Bela Korolyi started seeking and training talented five- and six-year-olds in gymnastics resulting in Nadia Comaneci getting an unprecedented gold for Romania at the Olympics.
The Sports Ministry and All India Football Federation should set up Football Schools in each and every state and spot young children with potential and train and educate them. If you have a large pool of footballers who have learnt the skills early, then there's a better chance of building a world-class team.
I remember watching a live match at a stadium between the Indian national team and PSV Eindhoven (that famous Dutch club). First, the visiting team came and kicked free footballs into the crowd. All the balls landed in the far end of the stadium. When the Indian team came, not a single ball reached a single spectator!
Obviously the team's physical strength itself comes into question. That's why a large pool of physically strong sportspersons is needed in the first place.
Special: Fifa World Cup
Indian Football League
Cricket's Indian Premier League was initially floated as an idea for football, but the AIFF showed no interest.
That is strange.
You can build up on the popularity of the game in states like West Bengal, Kerala, the Northeast and Goa and take it big-time at the national level.
Let us at least get the football club league in place before we move on to the other forms of the game.
A bid for the World Cup?
Another thing we need to do is to concentrate on bidding for the Olympics and FIFA World Cup once the Commonwealth Games are out of the way.
While the idea might seem laughable right now, such campaigns last decades.
For example, the Indian Government could come up with a Mission 2030 and launch a programme saying we aim to make India a global player in football by 2030 and also host the FIFA cup then. It's not as far-fetched as it sounds.
Home advantage is a humongous factor in the World Cup.
With the exception of Brazil, no team has ever won a World Cup outside its continent.
Argentina came close when they won the Mexico Cup, but that country also happens to be in the Americas.
England and France won their solitary title on home soil.
South Korea hosted the Cup and reached the semis.
That's host power for you.
Imagine what would happen if India hosted the tournament!
But by that logic, Brazil and South Africa are hot favourites for this world cup!
And till then, India and football are just a dream…