Indian football - The next big thing in Indian sports culture

Ten years ago, if someone were to ask, “What do you think about the sports culture in India?”- apart from a few exceptions, it is safe to say that everyone would mostly talk about Cricket. Just cricket. Up till a few of years ago, no one was aware of any football matches in India and aside from the few loyal football fans, hardly anyone would even bother to buy tickets for an ongoing football tournament.

Today, with the influx of ISL (Indian Super League), the power of social media and big marketing strategies, reaching out to fans has become relatively easier, and the game of football has had a positive impact on Indian football and all the possibilities it carries.
Over the years, Football, in India, has become a sport enjoyed by millions but professionally played by few. It is a gaming profession with an uncertain future, low job security and evens lower social respect if one doesn’t play too well. A lot of young children aspire to play in ‘La Liga’ or the ‘Premier League’, but decidedly less want to play in the I-League. There have been issues related to the government not allotting the necessary funds towards it, and the stadiums not being well maintained. In India, if someone says that they want to be a footballer, people will laugh at them. And due to the same reason, many young talented Indians move to European countries where their talent is appreciated.

A sport that has such a huge fan base should have a significant impact on the economy of a country and even put the nation on the global map. So, a straightforward question that always triggers one’s mind is, “Why isn’t India on the worldwide map of football playing nations?”
India is a vast nation with around 1.3 billion people, yet as a nation, it does not have a name in football and is not a highly ranked country in the game as much as it is in cricket.
The life of an Indian football player is not at all easy. They are always in a state of continuous tension, perplexed as to what shall be the future of football players in India. However, the appraisals and the hopeful words of global players of world football give Indian football fanatics the hope to dream.
Indian football has been evolving, with the rebranding of the National Football league (NFL) to the better I-League in 2007, the introduction of the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014, and the inception of the Indian Super Cup in 2018 to celebrate an ultimate winner, scrapping the historic Federation Cup.
The Indian National Football Team had been lagging in FIFA rankings for long and even slipped to as low as a rank of 173 in 2015. Since the inception of the Indian Super League, things seem to have changed for Indian football, taking a proper direction. India's rank in FIFA global rose from its low position to 137 in 2016 and achieved its highest ever FIFA ranking since February 1996 by grabbing the 96th position in 2017. Although their best ranking was 94 in 1996, it will hopefully be beaten shortly, given the current success of the national team..
Many leading sports experts regarded ISL to be the reason behind India’s success. According to them, “Since the ISL started, the Indian national team has gone from about 170th to 100th in the FIFA rankings, and the head coach Stephen Constantine has done a terrific job."
In the recently concluded AFC cup, the Indian football team performed to their full potential. After a thrilling win, the Indian football team and its fans were left heartbroken after they lost 0-1 to Bahrain by conceding a goal in the final minutes. The result meant that the Stephen Constantine-coached Indian team was knocked out of the AFC tournament, by winning just one out of its three matches in the United Arab Emirates.

Nevertheless, Indian football is on the rise. In the past few years, after the introduction of the many Indian football leagues, we have seen very aggressive and rapid growth in Indian football whether it is regarding the quality of players, the infrastructure, or viewership.
The leading Indian National Team has been on a 12 game unbeaten run as of October 30th, 2017. This is one of the longest unbeaten runs currently in International Football just after Germany’s 19.
But the success of the football team also depends on many internal and external factors that need immediate attention- Till the time the infrastructure is improved, the popularity of the Indian Super League (ISL) doesn’t make much of a difference. There is a need for well-maintained football grounds. In smaller localities where young children can play, they must be encouraged to play football apart from cricket, and not get nervous when they get injured due to the game.
Needless to say, the future of Indian football is bright. The popularity of the game is on the rise. A lot of people follow European football leagues. But it has been that way for some time now. It won't change India's Fifa ranking. The need of the moment is to invest in the sport, encourage and support it, and train young players so that one day soon, India can feature in the FIFA world cup too.

- Sonal Bera

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Indian football - The next big thing in Indian sports culture Indian football - The next big thing in Indian sports culture Reviewed by Sonal Bera on February 23, 2019 Rating: 5

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