'With 1.4 billion people, it is criminal that India is not strong': Arsene Wenger
Former Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger claimed that it is criminal that despite the huge population India is not a strong footballing nation.
Legendary football coach Arsene Wenger said that it is criminal that despite the population India is not among the strongest footballing nations in the world on Tuesday.
Former Arsenal coach Wenger, currently serving as FIFA's chief of global football development, was present during the 2026 World Cup qualifiers second round clash between India and Qatar in Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar.
"I am a passionate football lover and I am fascinated by the history and development of football in India. With a strength of 1.4 billion people, it is criminal that India is not among the strong footballing nations," Arsene Wenger said in an interaction with Jio Cinema.
On the chance of the Indian football team qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, Wenger said," With 48 countries participating in the 2026 WC, I think India should be one of the countries making it to the tournament."
Earlier, Wenger had mentioned that he is looking at India as the gold mine for footballing talents.
Aim to identify talent in India
Wenger inaugurated the AIFF-FIFA talent academy in the capital city of Odisha with an MoU between the AIFF and the Odisha Government.
"Our project is to identify talent in India, to put the best talent together, give them a good coaching program, give them a good education and a good level of competition, and make them great players," Wenger said about the initiative.
"Our huge effort is to dig out talent and make them as good as they can be," he said after witnessing the signing of the MoU between the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the Odisha government.
Fifty under-14 players -- including 15 from Odisha -- will be selected by the FIFA coaches in the first batch and they will get training at the academy for two years.
Odisha government will take care of the boarding, lodging, accommodation, and education of the players, and FIFA will provide the technical know-how and the coaches.
"With such a huge population, the potential in India is huge, for you to be on top of the world. That is what we want to achieve together. How long will it take, I don't know," Wenger said.
"But one thing is for sure, if we don't educate we will be where we are at the moment. With the quality of education, you get great players. Our target is to develop top-level players here and get India on the map among the best countries in the world," said the celebrated coach.