It’s been 64 years since India had a moment in international football to be proud of. The last time was in 1950 when the Indian team qualified for the World Cup. However, even then it could not participate in the games as all the other teams in the group withdrew. But winds of change have started to blow with Indian team winning the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) in 2005. The introduction of Indian Super League has breathed a new life in the game in India.
Salman Ali, 24, has been playing football for over 13 years now. Having started as an amateur he moved on to make it to the Uttar Pradesh team for Santosh trophy for the last two years. He is optimistic and feels that ISL will help promote football in India. “I’m very excited to watch the way that local players will fit with their international teammates. I am sure that Indian Super League would promote football in this country which has had a dismal performance on the international turf,” he says.
Huge investments have been made by club owners to rope in international football players for the tournament. Amounts to the tune of 1.5 to 3 million USD have been paid to these players. Salman is backing for Mumbai Football Club in the ISL. “With Fredrik Ljungberg, an ex-Arsenal player, this team has a big chance of becoming a champion. I’m very excited to see what happens,” he explains.
More such prominent names will be seen participating in the tournament. Del Piero (Italy), Luis Garcia (Spain), Robert Pires (France) are some of the other starts who will be playing in India in ISL. “It will be exciting to see how the players adapt to the league and how they fit in with their new teammates. I am sure it would promote football to a higher level in India and youngsters would fancy being a football star in the near future” he says.
India is targeting to take part in the world championship in 2026 and ISL is being seen as the stepping stone for the big platform. ‘With the improved infrastructure and the experience of all the ISL coaches, I think we have everything it takes to reach our aim,” he says.
Novy Kapadia, an eminent Indian football expert is skeptical about the hype. “ISL is just a two month affair and then the players will be gone, Indian football should look something that sustains the growth and development of Indian football in the longer term, 2026 FIFA World Cup is a dream which India hopes to achieve through ISL, but I don’t think just two months of football will do that much good to it, though alongside ISL if Indian League (I-League), can be developed simultaneously, then I’m sure we can look forward for a better future in Indian football,” he suggests.
India has twelve years to prepare for world cup challenge. It has all the means to reach its goal slowly and gradually.
“2026 is very far away, I look forward to India competing in the 2022 World Cup”
Prabir Das will be playing alongside French football player Robert Pires for Goa football club in the Indian Super League. He is really excited to play with the former Arsenal playmaker. Uzair Hasan Rizvi finds out…
Q: How excited you are to compete in the Indian Super League with FC Goa?
A: I am very excited to be a part of FC Goa. It really feels good to be in here with the team. I come from the grassroots level and I thank my coaching staff and everyone who backed me. I believe my stint with my club Dempo in Indian League and then a couple of performances with Indian Under-19 Football team paid off and that’s why FC Goa approached me.
Q: Which player are you looking forward to play against in the ISL?
A: Obviously, I have Robert Pires in my team- I like him but the player which i am keenly looking forward to play against is Alessandro Del Piero of Delhi. He’s a striker and I’m a defender. I’ll give my 100% when I get the chance to play against him.
(He continues jokingly) Don’t blame me if I’m not able to stop him, he’s the best!
Q: How will Indian Super League help Indian football?
A: ISL is a new idea brought into the Indian football. It will be exciting to see how the players adapt to the league and how they fit in with their new teammates. I am sure it would promote football in India and youngsters would fancy being a star in the near future.
Q: Do you think India have a realistic chance of qualifying for 2026 World Cup as this is one of the goals of the ISL organizers?
A: Well, 2026 is very far. I honestly don’t know how ISL will fare in terms of viewership and success as brand, but for us (Indian players) it’s a perfect platform and I am keen on seizing this opportunity. I think we can build on this platform. It will lead to the emergence of young talent in India. Also, with the improvement in facilities and infrastructure we could eye for World Cup in 2022.
Q: As a footballer are you glad that football will be receiving some good attention in India instead of just cricket?
A: I’m glad. Though cricket has always been the first love for many Indians, but they do love the Bollywood too. And with Bollywood actors now investing and getting involved in football teams they will be interested in the ISL. Also star players like Del Piero, Trezeguet, Ljunberg, Anelka, Silvestre and Pires will grab eye-balls. I am anticipating a packed house and people cheering for them. It might be very soon that football in India will be the most discussed topic and Indian players will get the same attention as cricketers receive.
(Uzair Hasan Rizvi is a Freelance Journalist and a journalism student at AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India. He tweets @rizviuzair)