The All India Football Federation (AIFF) said it wants to see the country's national team breach the top 100 of the world football rankings within three years.
"Our aim is to break into the top 100 in three years. We have been sliding in the rankings consistently. We need to develop the infrastructure as well as concentrate on grass roots level development. That is possible only by making it totally professional," AIFF President Praful Patel said at a media conference here.
Patel, also Union Civil Aviation Minister, was speaking at a function to send off two south Mumbai school boys, Hussain Vahanvaty (St Mary's) and Shaun Fernandes (St Peters), for a six-week training stint with the English club Queen's Park Rangers.
The duo was picked through a talent hunt programme initiated by South Mumbai MP Milind Deora last year.
The AIFF chief said all the I-League clubs of the country have been given time till February next to become totally professional outfits by fulfilling all the licensing criteria laid down by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
"In October we will have an audit of all these clubs and by February the full details of the clubs fulfilling the AFC laid down licensing criteria will be out," Patel said.
"FIFA President Sepp Blatter and AFC chief (Mohammed bin Hammam) are clear that if football is to be called a truly global game, it has to catch up big time in India," he said.
Patel rued the absence of international standard football stadiums in the country as a whole and Mumbai in particular, and said top footballers of the world cannot be invited to play here with the existing conditions.
"I cannot invite Ronaldinho to play in India. We need to develop the infrastructure. Mumbai has a good stadium for cricket and nothing else. There is great enthusiasm from the corporates for football but the infrastructure have to go up," he said.
Looking ahead to the AFC Asian Cup for which India has qualified after more than two-and-a-half decades, the AIFF chief said said more international friendlies would be held for the national team ahead of the 2011 event in Qatar.
"We have qualified for the Asian Cup after 26 years. We have a good coach (Bob Houghton) and all the selected footballers are being paid what they would have earned contractually with their clubs plus 15 per cent. We hope we would do well," he said.
The quadrennial event is scheduled from January 7 to 29 and would feature 16 teams - Qatar, China, Kuwait, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Jordan, Syria, South Korea, India, Australia, Bahrain, North Korea, UAE and Iran.
Patel said international friendlies would help the national team prepare for the prestigious football event. Patel also said that by fielding the India Under-19 team as one of the 14 outfits in the upcoming I-League, the AIFF is aiming to groom players for the future too.
"They will play as one team in the I-League as one of the 14 teams and could be the next team for the country," he said.
He was also hopeful of securing the remaining half (Rs 12.5 crore) of the Rs 25-crore grant promised to the AIFF by the Cricket Board, which has been bogged down by tax issues.
"BCCI has some tax issues. Once they resolve them, we can pursue that," he said.
The Board has disbursed the first installment of the grant to AIFF to help the latter utilise it for preparing the Indian team for the 2011 Asian Cup. The second installment is pending.