India, for long, has been considered as the sleeping giant of world football. What is your plan for India if you were to become the next FIFA president?
I've known your country and your football for years, but I don't want to be seen as the arrogant Western European coming here to give lessons. But I think you were not a sleeping giant always. So you have to wonder why that happened. Your country is very incredible, with a dynamic population, and so I'm not pessimistic. India, China, USA and Indonesia represent 45 per cent of the world population, and in these four countries, football still has a huge margin to grow. I think the reasons are diverse. Your state football associations never wanted to have a national football association all these years. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) was formed in 1937. You had to wait till 1996 to have a national league. Some state football associations are just organising festivals and not real competitions, while the top 14 clubs have no access of the decision-making process.
But I do believe you have potential here, which I wanted to understand better. And it's very interesting for me as a candidate of FIFA presidency of speak with the rank and file of Indian football. When Sepp Blatter (FIFA president) came here in April 2007 on a visit I organised, we launched a programme in India 'Win in India With India' and $8 million were allocated then. It's 2014 and there's still some money that has not been allocated. You should wonder why. Your country has very intelligent, educated people, strong business sector — you have all the recipes to succeed. But you have to roll up your sleeves. That's the only thing I can say.
Hosting the U-17 World Cup in 2017 would be a huge boost for India, isn't it?
Yes, you also have the U-17 World Cup now. So don't miss that opportunity. It's a one shot, so don't miss it. You cannot allow yourself to do that.
Do you think the AIFF is doing enough to arrest the slide in the country's FIFA ranking and promoting football in the country?
I cannot judge what the AIFF is doing. I know a lot of people are involved in the IMG-Reliance project (Indian Super League). Let's wait and see. Some people are thinking we're going to organise a special tournament lasting six weeks, and at times it can be an illusion to believe that you can change football on a national basis with that.
I personally believe that we need to solidify the current league (I-league), expand the second division, and massify in terms of viewer participation. Look at Mizoram winning the Santosh Trophy, it shows that you can succeed even from scratch. So it's about rolling the sleeves, doing the right things. Developing football is simple — you have to start from scratch. You have everything, but it's about developing football in a pyramid. The wider the base of your triangle, the stronger your football will get at the top. Unfortunately, the pyramid of football in India is more like a stick than a pyramid.