On a three-day visit to India in his capacity as FIFA’s chief of Global Football Development, former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger set his sights on a lofty goal – to elevate India’s standing in the world of football.
“My target is to improve football in the world. And it is impossible that a country like India, 1.4 billion, is not on the football world map,” Wenger told the press, on the first day of his visit on Tuesday.
The ace manager is visiting India to launch a joint football academy by AIFF and FIFA in Bhubaneshwar.
Addressing the president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), Wenger highlighted the untapped potential within the country, stating, “My main target here is to convince people that there is a gold mine here, but at the moment it is not completely explored, exploited, and encouraged.”
Wenger drew parallels with Japan’s football development, recounting his experience in 1995 and the nation’s remarkable journey to the World Cup just three years later.
“I believe you have huge assets, fantastic qualities that make me very optimistic about what you can do here,” he said, stressing the importance of a robust development programme.
India, despite its vast population and passion for the sport, has never participated in a FIFA World Cup.
Wenger acknowledged this historical gap, noting India’s decision not to compete in the 1950 tournament despite being invited.
As Wenger advocated for a renewed focus on football development in India, the national team prepared to face Asian champions Qatar in their second match of the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 preliminary joint qualification Round 2 at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar on Tuesday.
Ahead of the crucial match, India’s head coach Igor Stimac conveyed a bold approach, stating, “It’s a game where there is nothing to lose for us but a lot to win. So, let’s go for it all out.”
Stimac, who played a pivotal role in India’s remarkable goalless draw against Qatar in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, reflected on that historic night four years ago in Doha.