The Indian Super League (ISL) – Effect on Indian Football
The inaugural season of the Indian Super League, or ISL, came to an end recently with Atletico de Kolkata edging out Kerala Blasters by a solitary goal to take home the coveted title. Attended by thousands of die-hard and enthusiastic fans, and watched by millions, the tournament transformed into a phenomenon at a point when the concept had its fair share of doubters.
Carving a niche for the sport in a cricket-dominant country
What the League has done, is that it has managed to gather the masses to take note of the sport in a way like never before. It recorded the highest attendance for a league in Asia, and with an average attendance of 24,357 spectators it became the fourth biggest league in the world – only inferior to the Premier League, Bundesliga, and La Liga.
Another, perhaps more primary, objective that the League has achieved is to improve the infrastructure, and to improve the homegrown players of each club. Roping in the likes of Robert Pires, Alessandro Del Piero, Freddie Ljunberg and Nicolas Anelka will only help the Indian youngsters develop their game and learn from those who’ve been there and done that. They’ll get a chance to delve into the minds of some of football’s most coveted players and study their actions in various situations of the game, and how they cope with the pressure of playing at such a high level.
Support from former stars
Mikael Silvestre, former Manchester United and Arsenal defender and now the marquee player for ISL’s Chennaiyin FC believes that the tournament has changed the perception of the Indian audience towards football, and thinks that the country is ready to adopt a second major sport.
He adds, “It also brings the belief that there will be resources brought into the game in India at the youth level and the ISL has already launched its central grassroots program.”
Not too long ago, there was talk of how embarrassing it is to know that a population of over a billion can’t produce a team decent enough to compete at the highest level of the game. But things are slowly changing in that regard, as India have recently progressed into the second round of the World Cup Qualifiers for the 2018 edition.
It was difficult to even think of having a career in sports, living in a country like India, where tradition and culture rule many of the mindsets. However, things have changed for the better, but even then kids are more likely to choose cricket, which has always been placed in a high steed in the country.
The way ahead for Indian football..
The raging success of the ISL should change that. Football is slowly, but surely, garnering attention. Friends will no longer discuss the happenings of the English Premier League or the German Bundesliga alone, but will also talk about the multitude of potential that the country has in itself, through platforms like the ISL. Weekends will no longer be about getting together to watch the El Classico or the Manchester Derby, but about heading out to the stadium to catch a glimpse of the local talent.
It is befitting, then, that the winning goal of the ISL tournament was scored by an Indian, Mohammed Rafique. Let us hope that the momentum football as a sport in India has currently sustains, and that there will be a day when the beautiful game is revered with as much pompous abandon as cricket.