Asserting that Indian footballers should not be compared with their European counterparts, former Spain midfielder Luis García has pointed out that India's sporting culture needs to be changed in order to improve the standard of the game in the country.
Pointing out that cricket is more popular than other sports in India, the former Barcelona, Liverpool and Atlético Madrid player said comparing Indian and European players is like asking a Spaniard to play cricket.
"It is totally wrong to compare them. For European footballers the sport is there with them since the childhood so they have been seeing the game and playing it at early stages. I remember when I was two-years-old, I had my first ball and most of the football players are having the same," Garcia told IANS on the sidelines of the unveiling of the Barca Academy's Asia Pacific Cup Trophy on Thursday.
"In India you see kids play cricket and not football. So when they see football and see their idols playing football the sports culture here will change. It's like you ask us to play cricket we don't even know the rules," he added.
Garcia, who also played for Atlético de Kolkata in 2014, praised the the Indian Super League (ISL), asserting that the domestic standards in India are improving.
"Yes it is improving. If you see the competition has improved with the number of teams and the national team, U20, U17 team also also doing well. The ISL started in 2014, and now its been five years, anyone can see the improvement as the number of kids training and nvolvement in the teams in the ISL better than when we started in 2014," he said.
"But this is just a start, at this stage you try to make the competition a bit more longer so that fans can enjoy more action," he added.
The Indian national team is taking baby steps in the world map. They came up with some impressive performances at the AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
When questioned about the technical and tactical standards of Indian players, Garcia said they need to keep improving.
"Tactically they need to keep improving because the culture of football has just arrived. I know there are lot of cities when the culture of football is there for ages like Goa but the rest of the country only watches football. But now facilities and the awarness of the game is getting better and technically they are very good players," he said.
Garcia unveiled the Barca Academy's Asia Pacific Cup Trophy on Thursday. The intra Barcelona academy tournament will feature 48 teams from Australia, Japan, China, Spain and Singapore.
Commenting on the development, former Barcelona midfielder said: "If you see the number of kids they are hiring in the academies is fantastic and you will see the improvement in four to five years. In Barcelona football schools you are training with a specific philosophy, with coaches from FC Barcelona. So I think it is a fantastic way of keeping the passion of football and also making Indian football better."