The Underdogs

‘The Underdogs’ galvanised a sense of togetherness like no-other emotion.  This story of an International Children’s Football Alliance team representing Slum Soccer, India, is an inspirational story.  Some of the team that experienced the Swiss International u16s 2015 tournament talk about when they played against academies from professional European clubs.

Team of 2015 reunion

Bringing a team of young players together from one of the poorest slums in the world to one of the most beautiful, affluent and serene countries in the world, was an experience never to be forgotten.

‘I learnt so much as a football coach at the Swizz under 16s 2015 International Cup Tournament. I felt young players from India may not have the best facilities or the best leagues in the world but what they do have is the passion and desire to play at all levels’ Humkant Surandase, Slum Soccer, Head Coach.

This was a unique social inclusion programme as witnessed in the Slum Soccer u16s Tournament in Switzerland Evaluation produced by the NCFA.

Eleven Indian players formed a squad with eleven local players from Liechtenstein and Switzerland to take part in the Football Is More, Swiss, u16s International Cup.  None of the players had ever played together before.  They were formed to play against a number of Europe’s professional clubs’ youth academies.

The mish mash squad representing India played six matches and understandably considered to be the cannon fodder of the tournament.

What transpired was a lesson to all that participated and  all that witnessed the matches that India played.

slum soccer team in kit_w300_168The score  lines should have been predictable and to a degree they were.  However, the Indian squad were arguably the most progressive team in the tournament.   A fact that did not go unnoticed by the event organisers who voted the Indian goal keeper,  the keeper of the tournament.  The Indian goalkeeper had never played on such palatial surfaces in his life and yet he beat off academy goal keepers; some of whom had been in the football academy system for four or more years.

Coaching and managing a brand new team where players from different cultures do not know each other’s abilities may sound daunting in a tournament environment.   The challenge was to form a close bond on and off the field in a short space of time – 5 days.

This was achieved quickly in terms of short, sharp bursts of training. Under a blistering sun the Indian squad were soon a metaphoric goal up.  Conserving energy and staying cool and calm was second nature to the Indian players and their foreign team mates quickly adopted the same tactics. While the clip board ‘prescriptive’ coaches of academy teams were training their players in 30 minute sessions right up to kick off, it became clear that the Indian team would benefit far more from having small progressive targets set for each match.

The Indian team were told from the start that results were for the other teams to worry about and that they could expect that other teams’ managers would consider them as easy opposition.

‘We said to our players in the first match that your target is to keep the score at nil nil for the first 10 minutes and if that was successful we would seek to get three shots on goal’ Sajid Jamal, Manager.


It transpired that small realistic targets in each game were not only achieved but built up a tremendous team spirit to the point where India won their final match in front of the largest audience of the tournament.  Their match performances were acknowledged by other participants and their parents who sensed that the ‘underdogs’ were  playing  without the burden of  fear and with positive adult expectations.

Indeed, there was acknowledgement among the coaching fraternity when one coach commented;

‘We manufacture footballers far too early.  When our players came up against the Indian team they were suddenly confronted by unpredictable players full of energy, passion and desire. The Indian team lacked flare but their creativity was a sharp reminder that no matter how hard you coach a team at any level you will only witness creativity when you put down the coaching books.

‘The Indian team played a form of football that reminded all the academy teams not to stop playing street football because that is where you start your trade’.  Jim Cassell, ex-,Manchester City Academy.