Indian football is often known as ‘the sleeping giant’; but why does a population of 1.3 billion fail to produce a team that can compete internationally?
Well most people believe that it’s because India has never been rich in it’s football history; well in actual fact, that couldn’t be more wrong.
The Golden Era of Indian football was during the 1950s when football started to become increasingly popular in India., and fresh off independence the All India Football Federation (AIFF) quickly became recognised by FIFA, allowing them to play international matches as an independent country and eligible for the world cup. 1950 was the crucial year.
Indian football could have exploded onto the global community as India was supposed to be in the world cup but due to implications of long travel; regulations that players must wear football boots and miss-information on the importance of the tournament and knock-on effect in the future, meant India would never play that world cup, subsequently would never play in a world cup until present day.This also meant that India would rarely play European teams with the exceptions of the Olympics.Who knows what would have happened if India played in Brazil, potentially increasing the popularity of football on a national scale and opened up more opportunities for India as a footballing nation, quite similar to cricket in India in a very similar time period (1952); and looking on today at the cricket team it is clear to see of what could have been .
Aside from the stunted development of Indian football culturally in the mainstream, there are other reasons more recently that still stop India from progressing forward in the modern game.
Indian government laws currently don’t allow dual-citizenship for people of Indian origin living abroad, but under FIFA ruling a player, ‘must hold a passport of the country one wishes to represent’. It’s unlikely these players will move to India; where there are much fewer football opportunities, leaving the selection pool of India very small with the players able to play most likely to be from India’s I-league and the new ISL which is very far away from the quality you would find in European football, for now.
But has India formed it’s own leagues to encourage competition and growth of young talent within it’s borders?
If we look at how young kids will be introduced into the game itself; Indian football stadiums are often in poor quality, not due to mismanagement by the clubs, as most clubs don’t even own the stadium they play in.They’re often multipurpose and used for public events such as concerts meaning the Indian national team cant even train in it’s own country until recently in preparation for major tournaments due to poor quality pitches. In the I-league there has been numerous issues such as failing to pay wages on time and the inability for clubs to play as they don’t have they’re licence; leading to a disjointed and non competitive league of low quality, passive football. The most important part ,youth development, is almost non-existent due to I-league clubs having no academies and the AIFF only recently opened regional facilities. Accompanied by only a hand full of AFC coaches for a population if 1.3 billion; the biggest problem for football hands down is the lack of football culture.
All problems stem from this one.
From this there has been a lack of footballing opportunities within India so most athletes in India tend to go towards cricket rather than football as most people believe, for good reason, that you cannot make a healthy career out of football.
Looking forward we can see that there has been a substantial increase in popularity within the country as 2015 recorded it’s biggest ever average attendance of 27,233 which is only 5000 shy of the Indian premier league for cricket.A number of big names in football have also promoted the ISL, whether playing, coaching or owning shares in the company; Roberto Carlos, Robert Pires and Nicolas Anelka. Outside of the footballing community Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan and Indian cricket captain Dhoni own Chennaiyin FC while Atlético de Madrid franchised their club in Kolkata. While it hasn’t taken off until recently, Indian football is looking on the up and doesn’t seem to be stopping.
‘Internationally, football is really really big. In India we have all the potential to make football as big as anywhere else in the world,’- Sachin Tendulkar.