Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Let's Football

The Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata lights up during the Opening Ceremony of the inaugural Hero Indian Super League. Photograph - DNAIndia

The Indian Super League is here, and off to a flying start. The much-awaited football tournament, consisting of eight newly-formed teams, is set to become a part of the sport's annual calendar with its two-month-long inaugural season garnering more popularity than ever anticipated. With bollywood personalities owning various teams, and cricket legends Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly doing their bit to promote the game, the glamour behind the tournament was never in doubt. The stupendous amount of revenue invested in every team too is an indicator of the sort of popularity this League was earmarked to achieve. With an average 15 crore rupees being the annual franchise cost, this league has got the economic backing that so many other Indian leagues in other sports did not.

Football has always been a point of passion for the Indian youth. Photograph - Aishwarya Das

The razzmatazz associated with the Indian Super League has further been accentuated by the influx of marquee players - players who have featured in prominent games for club and country, and have won the highest of honours in the game. Even a couple of years ago, the prospect of watching the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet, Robert Pires, Juan Capdevilla, Luis Garcia, David James or Nicolas Anelka playing on Indian soil would have been unthinkable. These players, though well past their prime, undoubtedly still retain enough of a reputation to fill a stadium simply on their own accord.

The owners of the Kolkata franchise pose with Atletico de Kolkata shirts. Photograph - ExPin

The League was created, as the organisers have repeatedly mentioned, with the purpose of a "new dawn in Indian football." Its objective is to raise the bar and improve footballing levels amongst the emerging Indian players, and to give them the exposure needed for their development. Many have raised questions about why this monetary backing was not provided to the existing Indian football clubs competing in the I-League. What happens now to these comparatively cash-stripped clubs of the Indian first division? Are we going to allow these clubs steeped in history to die a slow death, because our new clubs are flashier? Was there really any basis for creating a new league in the first place?

Like it or not, the ISL is here to stay. This is the face of modern football - consisting of marketability, economic viability, star attractions, and above all a higher standard of the game. While the requirement of the league may be debated upon, there is no denying that spending time with a Del Piero or a Luis Garcia can only be helpful for a young Indian footballer. Let's hope the ISL brings about a marked improvement in the standard of football that Indian audiences are used to expecting. Most importantly, let's hope India becomes a force to reckon with as far as the beautiful game is concerned, in the days to come.

C'mon India. Let's Football.

A promotional banner for the Hero Indian Super League

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