Ask any Indian sports lover if he or she follows soccer and the answer almost always is an unequivocal ‘Yes’.
The Indian soccer fan is well aware of what’s happening in the world of soccer and follows European club soccer with a passion that’s drawing foreign clubs to form local fan clubs and try to tap local talent and markets.
But query the same Indian fan whether he or she knows what’s happening in Indian soccer and they will reward you with a blank stare.
The state of Indian soccer has never been worse.
The Indian Super League that was launched with much fanfare last year promised to lift the sport out of its doldrums.
But it’s early days yet and it may take some time to see any real results.
As this writer sees it, for now, it attracts has-beens from Europe and South America who would probably have eked out the rest of their careers at their home-town clubs but have now been given a new lease of life—at least, for two months—by the lucre on offer in the ISL, salary caps notwithstanding.
Meanwhile, the I-League, which is the heartbeat of Indian soccer, languishes with teams threatening to pull out and the AIFF finding it hard to find replacements.
The national soccer team is not faring too well either.
They are ranked 155 in the world. It is hard to believe that at one time—in Feb 1950—India were 8th in the standings.
The current side have yet to register a win in the Asian qualifiers, losing their three games so far.
The ISL promises glitz , glamour and riches for the Indian players on display. They are suddenly earning crores overnight.
But how far will it take the junior players? The established stars earn their moolah and rightly so.
The I-League can function as a feeder tourney but it’s dying out.
The I-League itself is a recent phenomenon re-launching the National Football League in a new avatar in 2007-08.
The first six seasons were dominated by Goan clubs.
Bengaluru FC sprung a surprise in 2014 and this year it was old warhorse Mohun Bagan that claimed the refurbished title.
The AIFF is considering merging the two tournaments, the ISL and the I-League.
A committee has been formed to look into the possibility and how it could be made to work.
That will be the subject of my next article. Till then…