When someone talks about India, you would rarely relate the 7th largest country in the world to soccer. This kind of sport is not one of the popular and usual ones for the Indians. And logically, the local clubs and national team have hardly had any success in Asia and respectively in the world. The country has never qualified for a World championship, and up until recently was out of the first 150 countries in the FIFA ranking. So, you wouldn’t take a trip to India related to soccer. Or would you? There is a mega project that was launched in the last few years – its aim was to totally turn around the ideas about this sport near the Gang River. The project is called Indian Super League and doesn’t have an equivalent in the world. What is all this about?
Indian Super League was created in 2013 and behind it were a worldwide company about sports marketing and management based in New York, a holding that unites some of the most powerful Indian companies and the country’s laregst sports channel. The aim of the league was to raise the level and increase the popularity of soccer in India. Eight new clubs were created and offered for franchising, and local glories decided to invest in them, including former cricket stars Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly, Bolliwood idols Abhishek Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor and John Abraham, several powerful businessmen with huge financial resources, and the Spanish Atlético Madrid which participated for 3 years in the Atlético de Kolkata project.
The result was impressive! The first match in the Indian Super League history, which was played in 2014, was watched on TV by 75 million people, and within a week this number reached 170 million. In comparison this is 12 times more than the generated intested on Indian territory for the World Cup in Brazil, which was held dirung the same year. This however was far from the whole picture. The ratings increased every year, and the stadiums were filling more and more. So for example during the 2017-2018 season the matches of Kerala Blasters FC, one of the teams in the league, were watched on average by 31763 viewers per match. Slowly but methodically soccer started to turn into a mania for Indians, and the Indian Super League project started to generate huge profits.
What led to this quick success? How did Indians fall in love with soccer within a few years? It’s simple – the reason are the amazing stars that came to play soccer in the country. The big financial resources attracted popular soccer players from the whole world, even though some were not so young any more. Within the last 4 years Indian visas were granted to top players, like Alessandro Del Piero, Nicolas Anelka, Elano, Robert Pirès, David Trezeguet, David James, Joan Capdevila, Dimitar Berbatov, Freddie Ljungberg, Wes Brown, Robbie Keane. And you have to admit that even towards the end of their career, these soccer players can do amazing things with the ball, and even the most ignorant about the soccer game can be impressed. Well, the Indians are impressed. Del Piero for example was greeted by thousands of people at the New Delhi airport, when he arrived to start his journey in India.
An intersting fact is that the traditional clubs in the country, those with a long history, continue to play in their championship and to create champions. The public’s interest towards them however is much less than that towards the newly created clubs and their super league.
Indian Super League is running from Novwember to March, so if you are planning a trip to India during this time of the year, you would be able to enjoy one of the local team’s matches. Yes, up until recently this would have been strange, but now it is definitely worth seeing. If you are still not convinced, then let’s name some of the coaches that have worked in the league during the last year – Teddy Sheringham, René Meulensteen, Zico, Steve Coppell, Avram Grant. Specialists, who know even the smallest details in this sport and would be useful to any country with their significant experience in soccer.
All this has led to the fact that the level of soccer in India and respectively of the country’s national team has been significantly improving. The local players have the opportunity to get close to some amazing professionals and to obtain some know how from them. Now the “blue tigers”, as the Indian representation is called, is ranked on 97th palce in the world. Well, it’s not up at the top, but you cannot deny that it is better than 173rd for example. That is where they were ranked in 2015. Apart from that, in 2017 the team did not allow a single loss in an international match and managed to qualify for AFC Asian Cup in the following year, which will be held in the United Arab Emirates.
These achievements would have hardly been possible without the Indian Super League project, which has proved that soccer on a good level could be played in India too. Who knows, may be in a few years the “blue tigers” might reach the so wanted World Cup.