Football : the greatest game on the planet which has been embraced by half the world’s population still hasn’t found unanimous acceptance in one of the greatest countries in the world, India.
Although we do have a national league, 2 domestic cup-based tournaments and a celebrity powered national tournament but where do we lack EVEN IF we have three different categories of contests? Let’s take a look :
In the midst of the fact where cricket is the universal norm in India, football was always going to have a hard time gaining ground, since it was majorly adopted and adapted to in Bengal and mostly North-Eastern states. But cometh the era of late 2000’s and international football started to receive a huge television viewership from our country.
The Hero I League was started back in 2007 as India’s very own national but it never found country-wide popularity.
You could blame it on poor management, poor promotion or just the mediocre vibe injected into its inception but for some reason, it didn’t work out at all.
It has been 9 years, the tournament is still very much existent but it still is a rather bland affair to watch, even on TV. Even the Federation Cup and Durand Cup which are the two domestic cups associated to the league are rather unknown entities to the Indian audience.
Cometh 2014 and the high-profile franchise league ISL (Indian Super League) was started to bolster football’s popularity but after its inaugural season, even this tournament lost its vibe.
And again, this could’ve worked well had it not been for hiring retired international superstars who were brought in for crores of rupees but didn’t produce their magic on the pitch except for a couple of matches or so.
Franchise leagues aren’t mew to the world. MLS (Major League Soccer) of USA is one of the most popular franchise leagues in the current scenario. But to kick-start a sport’s popularity in a country like India, a traditional format is the need of the hour.
This calls for the formation of a proper European style league with 20 teams which runs through the course of 10 months in a single season and allows the players to play 38 matches in a domestic season in a round-robin format.
The Hero I League and the ISL only have 8 teams in their current format and that’s one of the reason why they don’t have unanimous relatibility with the Indian audience as the people would obviously love to see their state being represented on a national level. If money is being funded in, why not fund it into the right places?
India was given the rights to host a junior FIFA World Cup only because the country showed massive improvement in its infrastructure and quality of stadiums being built. But even then, the commercial aspect of a proper club-based system was still missing from this.
A national league with 20 teams will not only provide a wider reach but would also give a chance to talented footballers from around the country to exhibit their skill in front of an audience of over a billion.
This in turn would allow the national as well as international players to play under a unified system and not in a short-term system which has 2 leagues which are completely alienated to each other.
Players could play with proper and more sustainable professional contracts and this would offer them long-term monetary stability, which is seriously lacking in India except when it comes to cricketers.
Commercial promotion could always be done by roping in high profile celebrities and ISL and I League could be retired, once and for all. Think of it as a Uniform Civil Code in terms of football.
A proper national football league would allow players to compete at the highest level and then further attain a chance to qualify for AFC tournaments, which in turn would provide more monetary opportunities and worldwide fame.
What does need to be made sure that the transfer system doesn’t focus on foreign “marquee” players but actually focuses on bringing in established (if not superstars) players in their prime. Once the tournament gains ground, I’m optimistic that star players will follow suit.
But yes, initiation is necessary.
We have the money, we have the resources. All we need is a new league to invest it in.
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Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.