The former India national football captain Bhaichung Bhutia makes sense when he says we don’t need extravagant infrastructure but good football grounds and providing accessible sports facilities where children can play football.

The first Indian footballer to sign a contract with a European club and only the second to play professionally in Europe, Bhaichung Bhutia knows a thing or two about football. No, he does not mean that we do not need grand stadiums; instead, he emphasizes the importance of well-maintained grassroots football grounds accessible to young players eager to refine their skills.

The crux of Bhutia’s argument lies in the belief that quality footballers emerge not from towering structures but from easily accessible, well-maintained grounds where young players can hone their talent.

His suggestions, if heeded, can pave the way for a more sustainable and successful footballing future in the state. As Nagaland aspires to make its mark in the football arena, Bhutia’s emphasis on grassroots development and strategic investment in coaching should not be considered merely a recommendation but a roadmap for progress.

Building quality football grounds in Nagaland can be achieved without much difficulty if there is political will. Almost every village has a playground that can be easily improved and maintained with a little investment. With a good football ground in every village, coupled with proper grassroots coaching programs and tournaments, Nagaland can produce many talented players capable of competing in top-tier tournaments and clubs.

Speaking of village playgrounds, one is reminded of Salulamang, a small village in Mokokchung district that has produced some of the best footballers in Nagaland. It is said that players from this village formed half of the Nagaland football team in the 90s. The playground in Salulamang is located in the middle of the village and is accessible to all. This model can be replicated and scaled up. Another notable example is Arkong Ward during the 1990s, producing some of the best players in Mokokchung who later played for Nagaland. Unfortunately, the premises where they played was eventually walled off, leading to a decline in sports development in the locality.

Bhaichung Bhutia’s advocacy for prioritizing football grounds over extravagant infrastructure is a call for a paradigm shift. As Nagaland looks to foster its footballing talent, Bhutia’s vision offers a pragmatic and insightful guide to propel the state toward achieving its rightful place in the world of football.

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