You’ve probably been living under a rock if you haven’t already heard the news of India’s recent rise in rankings — jumping 11 spots to 137 this year — on FIFA’s international team’s rankings list. Or the news of Bengaluru F.C.’s qualifying for the finals of the Asian Football Confederation Cup Finals, just last week.
Indian football certainly has seen a resurgence in popularity, especially among mainstream audiences. With two domestic leagues — the AIFF’s I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL) — being featured more and more prominently in the news, it certainly seems to be a good time to be playing football professionally.
Former national player Abhijit Mondal, who currently serves as goalkeeping coach for East Bengal Football Club, says, “Football has picked up a little, when compared to before, thanks to the ISL. The tournament has become a good platform for players here and also gives them good money. And, with International players coming to play here, there is a lot of exposure for Indian players.
“The media has been covering the tournament widely, so parents are also now interested and letting their kids play the sport. Before, it was only cricket. The only thing that has to worked upon is that players should be trained at the grassroot level.”
Sri Kumar, a Hyderabad-based football player, who has won at the senior-level national championships twice, adds, “There are so many youngsters who are taking up football. There is so much of talent in the country. If it is teamed up with world-class infrastructure, the country can achieve so much more. The government is working on it... the results should come soon.”
“Even in sports camps in Hyderabad, the number of kids participating in other sports is just 40 or so, but around 250 kids have enrolled to play football. The challenge, however, is to organise more matches. There are hardly any under-13, under-17 matches organised. That’s how interested players will get exposure,” opines the Telangana State team’s coach, E.S. Shyam.
Yogesh “Yogi” Maurya, the founder of Fateh Hyderabad A.F.C., that plays in the I-League, however, says that the popularity of Indian football, isn’t really new. “I’ve been to a Calcutta Derby where there’s a hundred thousand people at Salt Lake Stadium. There are teams in the North East that play matches that aren’t even in the I-League or ISL, and you’ll get 10,000 people coming to a game.”
He also says that the progress, now, of the football fraternity in India needs to be threefold: “One level of measuring success, is the standard of football. We’re not one of the top teams in Asia, today. Second, we don’t have an organised calendar of competitions yet.
Whether you’re in a professional league, or a youth competition, we don’t have an organised calendar. And we need more competition — we don’t have enough games. The third thing is we have to improve our infrastructure: There’s no question that we don’t have that at the level India needs it.”
— With inputs from Shweta Watson...