Indian football is on the cusp of a complete transformation. The senior National Football team has made a giant leap of 76 ranks to be ranked 97 in the FIFA rankings in just over two years, and the U-17 team is set to play the first FIFA World Cup at home in exactly 34 days from now.
With the world already surveying India’s footballing powers, FIFA President Gianni Infantino has come to the rescue of the South Asian giants, also hinting that we’ve a long way to go to become a power to reckon with in the beautiful game.
In a recent message via a FIFA Magazine, the President said, “Although football has been making considerable strides in the country for years now, there is a universal sense that the room for growth is still of gigantic proportions. India is a football boom waiting to happen: it is simply a matter of investing in development — and, more importantly, doing so in a wise and effective manner.”
On closely considering his words, there’s congratulation mixed with caution in equal amplitudes. “Unanimous sense that the room for growth is still of gigantic proportions” is easily the most honest line to be written on Indian football. Even 70 years after Independence, the AIFF has still not been able to find the right way ahead and the country is set to witness two parallel leagues, albeit for a short term.
It becomes more baffling to say that the inferior league will arguably have a bigger and better platform and stature that the superior.
Are we receiving the right kind of investment?
Talking about investing in development, Chennaiyin FC and Shillong Lajong FC are two clubs from ISL and I-league respectively that have enjoyed positive results doing the same and are sure to become trendsetters in the years to come.
Once a streamlined transfer policy is put into place, youth players will start being sold and bought, giving feeder clubs the monetary stability to survive and thrive. The system, then, will be ideal for the holistic and perpetual growth of the game from the grassroots.
Infantino continued, “Today, as we count down towards the kick-off of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in October, India is fortunate enough to have this youth tournament as a valuable spotlight shining right over its development plan. With the ‘Mission 11 Million’, which is taking football to school across the whole country, India has been laying the foundation for a true revolution.”
Mission XI Million, for starters, has touched a lot of lives already and is making all the right noises. But is it going to stay that way? Will the effect remain the same in a country which encapsulates a population which short-term memory? Sadly, no.
India is a massive market which needs to be exploited well, even in the game of football, and FIFA understands that well. If the President says that we’re fortunate enough to have this youth tournament as a valuable spotlight shining right over our development plan, we must treat this as an underlying caution or even, as a favour from the football governing body. Do we deserve the World Cup? Ask yourself.
“A revolution of development and popularisation. The FIFA U-17 World Cup is, by its very definition, a stepping stone for young footballers to experience what the global stage feels like,” he signed off.
The right marketing and development of regional football
A revolution of development and popularisation is exactly what Indian football needs at the moment. TRPs of the I-league, Indian’s top tier, were poor last season and four Goan clubs had taken the year off from the league due to ideological issues.
Development was few and far between, and clubs which worked on the same managed to earn revenue, a luxury in Indian football. The game also needs a massive audience and advertisement to be fair, as most people wouldn’t be able to name XI players from the national team, let alone their local club sides, except in pockets.
Infantino also said that Indian football is a ‘football boom waiting to happen’, but we believe it should’ve happened by now, had a few sensible decisions been taken a little earlier.
India dominates the SAFF Championships, having won it 7 times in 12 editions since its inception. The Blue Tigers need to push themselves harder and join the Association of South Asian Nations (ASEAN) community. Back home, the AIFF needs to look into correcting a lot of weak moves and decisions.
Last season, Sporting Clube De Goa, Dempo, Salgaocar and Churchill Brothers had all called off on participation in the I-league. Although Churchill Brothers did return, the other three maintained their absence on the right pretext of aimless decision making from the football governing body. The fans need to come to the grounds and stands for the Indian footballers, and not with the lure of getting to watch a Diego Forlan or a Nicolas Anelka or Roberto Carlos, but sadly, that hasn’t been the case so far in the Indian Super League.
On the subject of popularisation, the Indian National team games were even telecast until recently, and the scenario is changing. With Star Sports striking a deal with IMG and the AIFF, the Indian football fan will no longer have to complain about the quality of the telecast. And once the habit gets in, and viewers get in, advertisers will come in as well. Ideally speaking, we’re on the slow and yet, the steady track of moving ahead. Let’s hope India gets a unified league soon to end this conundrum which puts us at shame in footballing fraternities worldwide.