Isn’t this a Golden Age for an Indian football fan? I am certainly enjoying it. Well, not because my favourite club are doing well in Premier League. Because they are not. It’s mostly because the country of more than billion is finally learning to love the best sport in the world. Indian Super League has obviously helped in this development in more ways than one.
1. Finally, football is finally a thing in our country
I remember pleading my cable operator to show a particular channel, so I can watch the 2002 World Cup. However, the costs were too high, and there was not enough audience in my small city. So, I had to rely on deferred highlights to catch my favourite sports stars in action.
Fast forward almost 16 years, you will find almost four different channels playing football at all times on the Indian Television. On the weekend, this number could even reach double digits.
2. The standard of the sport has increased manifold in the recent years
As a football fan growing up in India, I could also never take pride in the achievements of my national team or Indian clubs. However, things have never looked brighter like they do now.
The Indian National football team has made vast improvements in the last few years, and they are currently ranked 102 in the world. We were undefeated in 2017, and we also topped our qualifying group for AFC Asian Cup.
All this was unthinkable a few years ago, and the credit must go to the Indian Super League. The new corporate, yet more professional face of Indian football has its detractors, but it definitely has brought structure and quality to the sport in our country.
Since its inception in 2013, Indian Super League has helped bring many world-class coaches and players to India. This sudden increase in the standard of club-level football in our country has immensely helped Indian footballers. They are now rubbing shoulders with world-class players on a regular basis and learning about the nuances of the game from recognized managers like Roberto Carlos, Steve Coppell. Zico, Marco Materazzi and more.
3. More attention on youth development in the sport
All of these clubs have also invested in grassroots development programs, which has provided an easier path for young athletes to develop their talents.
North East United, in particular, have relied heavily on local talent. Rather than buying expensive foreign players, they have decided to give opportunities to players from the region. This approach might prove to be a hindrance to achieving success at first, but the local football will surely feel the benefits in the long-term.
Over the last five years, ISL has progressed and has become more professional in its outlook and approach. Now the entire season is spread out over five months, and the limit of foreign players has reduced from six to five. This ensures a fine mix of foreign and domestic players and helps in the development of Indian players.
What’s the next step?
Now, the next aim for the Indian players should be to use the platform of ISL to earn a move to one of the big leagues in Europe. Despite the recent progress in the sport, we are from being a force to reckon with on the world stage. The day we have at least three-four players playing in top European leagues, we would be able to proclaim that we have finally arrived in football.