India has seen a surge in the number of footballers playing in the I-League and the ISL and these are only the two big wig leagues of the country. There are a number of other smaller league, other divisions that produce a number of players. However, the level is still not at par with top leagues in the world– actually by a very long mile. India has long ignored football in the country with a chunk of sports resources going to mainly cricket. Even our national sport hockey has also been equally ignored. But this is now slowly changing as people of all ages from our country are finding the game irresistible and are starting to follow leagues whether they be local or international.
With a population of 1.2 billion people, how can a country as vast as ours languish so far behind in terms of football. We have so many talented and skilled players but because their training hasn’t been done in such a way to ensure they see success. It’s only now that the government sees the appeal of having a football team that will someday compete in the World Cup. Smaller countries than ours have done it, from Japan to South Korea, it’s time to ask if there is a timeline in which we can expect our players to be out there. Although we can’t really put all countries at the same level, there should be concrete steps to ensure that we move forward. We are however moving in the right direction with grassroots programmes across the country, however these are small in number and with our population, there should be more camps, clubs and youth teams out there. The Northeast has many clubs at every level but infrastructure and training continues to be a problem. With more investment, the much loved sport in the region will also be able to produce talent which may even be perceived world class. The players from the region are naturally gifted and with proper training and a healthy diet, their skill will only be enhanced.
However, we have much to do in comparison to China who is miles ahead of us with the Chinese League expected to be at the same level as top international leagues by the year 2050. While we bring in mainly top players who have retired to the ISL, the Chinese leagues have players such as Brazilian and ex-Chelsea player Ramires (29) playing in the league. Many others are seeing the appeal of China. The big spending clubs there have even drawn interests from players such as Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure (33). We have to wonder if they would ever think of India as their preferred destination. Jackson Martinez (29)the ex-Athletico Madrid player is also playing for a Chinese club. The 32 million dollar move raised eye brows as we see how far China has come and how much they are willing to spend.
India has to pull up its socks, and it’s first move is apparently the Mission 11 Million which will be launched across the country later this year. The programme is being backed by FIFA and will include 11 million children who will be involved in football related activities.The programme will help unearth talent and encourage youngsters below 16 to pursue the sport. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently lamented on how India ranked 163rd on the FIFA rankings while China is ranked 81, maybe with this programme we can expect great things from our national team in the next decade or so.
The All India Football Federation are tight lipped about the programme and are yet to disclose details. Hopefully what they are planning works out for Indian football are we reap the benefits of the programme. The ISL has created a number of new fans which is always good for the sport. We are behind only the Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga. So leagues like Serie A and Ligue 1 aren’t getting as much viewership as the ISL, however with our population we are bound to have people tune in to watch not just Indian players but many ex players who although are mainly way past their prime. If China can get top players at their peak, we should also try to rope in players who haven’t had a break from professional football. Surely with such a large viewership, the government can push more programmes to not only help players move forward but also give the Indian fans a great Indian team to cheer for.
(By Jessica Passah)
The views reflected in this piece are that of the author and need not necessarily be that of TNT-The Northeast Today