I guess all of us have become accustomed with the above slogan thanks largely to Star Sport’s popular ad for the inaugural Indian Super League. I guess in a way it was successful in the sense that it managed tocapture the attention of the Indian audience to a large extent, making ISL the fourth best league in the world in terms of viewership and match attendance beating even the likes of Serie A and the French league amongst others. But this slogan is also significant in the sense that it managed to speak, what a lot of the young generation of modern India have been trying to say for a while: let’s football or rather it’s time for football. In a cricket crazy nation like India, there has always been this peculiar passion for football. It’s no coincidence that the likes of Bundisliga, English Premier League and La Liga have been able to generate such large viewership amongst the Indian audience. After all Ex FIFA President did call India “the sleeping giants”.
One of the most frequently asked questions amongst the Indian population has always been about the qualification chances of India for the FIFA world cup. When is India going to play in its first FIFA World Cup? There is no definitive answer for that. At least not one that is visible right now. India managed to navigate through the first round of FIFA World Cup qualifiers for 2018 against Nepal over two legs winning the home leg 2-0 and playing a goalless draw in the away leg. They lost their first group stage match against Oman 2-1 recently though. They did play well against Oman, mind you. But it was not enough. And ‘Not enough’ is the perfect word to sum up the current state of Indian Football right now. For all the hype and the buzz surrounding ISL and Indian Football in general, the fact remains, India is still light years away from qualifying for the World Cup. The simple truth is, the current Indian squad is not good enough to compete with the best in Asia let alone the world. The 2-1 defeat at home was against an Oman side that are not considered amongst the elite like Japan, South Korea or Australia of Asia. It was not due to lack of effort mind you that they lost. In fact the Indian team gave a valiant fight in the second half. But they just couldn’t get the goal to get back into the game. The obvious flaw was not due to lack of trying but rather due to lack of quality. Despite all their efforts there just wasn’t enough quality to break down a resilient Oman defence. And world class quality is an element that is currently lacking in Indian football as a whole. It’s not something that can be bought nor can it be developed overnight. It takes years and years of planning to be able to produce a side with genuine quality, which has been the biggest problem bugging Indian Football.
For years now Indian football has been going at a snail’s pace. The AIFF has been struggling to come up with a definitive plan or vision to take Indian football forward. There have been various ideas in the past like AIFF’s U-23 I-league side, appointment of experienced foreign coaches for all age groups of the national sides and many others. But none have been too fruitful. For all its policies it has failed to address the very basic need of a successful national side i.e. the need for a proper grass root programme. It has simply passed the burden to the I-league clubs making it mandatory for clubs competing in the I-league to have their own academy. But simply installing an academy doesn’t guarantee quality nor does it guarantee success. How are this academies run? Or what are the guidelines for running these academies? All this issues have not been addressed at all. As such these institutes have become a mere coaching centres rather than a supply chain of good quality footballers for the national sides. India should look no further than Japan where they include school level tournaments as a platform for clubs to identify talents. In Japan the school tournaments are given their rightful priority making it a fierce competition for scouting and spotting of talent. Once spotted, they are bought under the academies of various clubs where everything from their education to their football are taken care of. Could we imagine something similar in India? The answer is yes. The likes of Subroto Cup can be used to identify the best talents in a tender age where they can be polished and nurtured to produce quality. But there is still no premiere institute in the country that has been able to produce world quality footballers. This is another aspect that needs to be dealt with. This is where ISL has a big role to play. For the league has been such a timely booster for Indian football for so many reasons. Not only has it been able to attract the young generations around the country to the game, but it has also proved to the corporate world that Indian football can also be a profitable venture. The ISL has been able to attract the investors and likewise have been able to bring in some quality footballers from around the globe with the investment. Thus they could do something similar to generate the required investment to establish and sustain a chain of world class academies in the country. The ISL’s grass roots programme have been very successful in terms of both quality and numbers thus proving that there is no dearth of passion for the game in the country. The only thing is whether India can find the proper plan to nurture these talents into world class elements.
Nine months after the inaugural ISL, it’s still murky at best to fully gauge the effect of it on Indian football. But one thing’s for sure, it has certainly provided that glimmer of hope, that light at the end of the tunnel for Indian Football and maybe, just maybe, there might be something after all. It still remains to be seen whether the ISL will prove to be the ultimate wake up call for the sleeping giants of football or whether it simply proves to be another false dawn in the history of Indian Football.
by- Bishen Rawat