Swedish defender Jonas Olsson is a great follower of the game. The towering 6 feet 5 inches footballer, who played for West Bromwich club in England, was in India recently on a different mission. He visited the slumchildren of Bhagwaanpoora slum and had an active interaction with them under the aegis of Breathe Easy India.

In a chat with the The Sunday Guardian, Jonas Olsson talked about his experience in the country, and the sort of grassroots development which he feels should happen in this country if the game has to grow.

He called Friday’s visit to the Bhagawanpura  slum as one of the most dramatic incidents in his life. “Visiting them (Bhagwanpoora) was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I was really taken aback by the interest and the level of skills these youngsters exhibited,” said Olsson.

When asked whether he was expecting such a positive reaction from the kids hailing from the underprivileged sections, OIsson said it was a revelation to him that they had such talent. “It took me sometime to realise that these young kids were so talented. It’s a lasting impression,” he said.

Olsson promised that he would be back in Delhi. “I will be back here—I can promise you that. I am quite happy that I happen to be associated with these kids. I am sure given the right sort of training and opportunity some of them had it in them to become good football players,” said Olsson.

Moving over to Indian football, Olsson was candid enough to admit that India had to improve their football structure at the grassroots level. “In any country, for the game to properly develop, its important that the basics are right. I think that’s why today the European and Latin American countries are so good at football,” he said.

Olsson went on to say that he felt that Indian football was growing at all levels. “In this context I can  say that India should take a cue from the English and American way of grassroots football. I am saying this since there are not many football academies in this country.  Hence, the most important thing to be done is to nurture talent at the school level,” he felt.

Olsson also felt that the main challenge to inculcate into a grooming football was to develop co-ordination, agility and basic technique. “In order to achieve this, I would say that in India, one must start teaching kids football from the tender age of five. It is in this age group that kids acquire the skill and co-ordination. I feel India has to concentrate on kids from the age group of five years,” he added. .

The Swedish said that the district and state championships should be promoted well. “It’s important that the district and state level tournaments are given the right importance ,” he said.

As regards the Indian Soccer League, Olsson felt that it was a window to world football. “I must mention one fact here. The ISL is quite important. The ISL can bring further progress to Indian football. The first reason is because we have lifted the quality of the game bringing both experienced and young professional footballers from Europe, South America and other nations that normally would never have come here to play. Now the Indian players are getting experience to train and play along with players of great calibre.,” he said. 

He was very pleased to meet Salma Ansari, the wife of Vice president Hamid Ansari and applauded all her social initiative. “When she told us stories of how little babies are given plain water as a substitute for milk or the little five year old boy had got hooked on to drugs, it brought tears to my eyes,”  he said.

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