The Indian national side is currently ranked 150th in the world. It is a nation which has produced precious few players that are known outside of their home country. Indeed Chopra was the first player of Indian origin to play in the Premiership, and the current national squad all play for Indian club sides
A wise old owl by the name of Sepp Blatter though, has dubbed the nation the ‘sleeping giant’ of world football. Should they be coaxed into dropping the bat and pads and kicking a ball around instead, the immense population of 1.3 billion people will produce significant talent.
Formed in 2007, the I-League has not featured any truly international, notable stars. In its debut campaign the ISL will feature several, and the hope is that the buzz around the competition should see some stay and sign for I-League clubs; the competition begins in December just as the ISL concludes. A further hope is that after a successful opening campaign, yet more talented and well-known players will seek to join the ISL in its second year.
The ISL has also put into place plans to create an infrastructure to nurture and identify talent at a young age, the aim is to establish professional academies and develop highly trained coaches to work at all levels of the sport across the country. The likes of Manchester United and Liverpool already have academies in India, but many more are needed.
Importantly, the statistics appear to show that football is already more popular than many would otherwise believe. The Barclays Premier League is the most popular league in India regularly watched by millions, and football is the second most popular sport in terms of participation and attendance. The major derbies in Kolkata regularly see crowds of close to 100,000. The hope and belief is that the ISL will provide that final kick, the final trigger which really kickstarts football in India.
Amoy Ghoshal, Indian Football Correspondent for Sportskeeda, stated: “The feeling is that the ISL will attract the masses, which hasn’t been the case with the I-League. Due to the involvement of big name foreign players, corporates, cricketers, Bollywood stars, the ISL has the potential to commercialise the game in the country. TV network, Star, are going to attempt to televise Indian football like never before. There is also a commitment from organisers IMG-Reliance towards improving the quality of the stadiums, so the hope is to see higher turnouts. But of course, these are all expectations rather than conclusions.”
Names such as Del Piero, Trezeguet, Pires and Ljungberg still resonate in world football. They may be nearing the end of their careers, indeed Pires and Ljungberg have come out of retirement, but all possess significant star quality. Maradona once stated that he’d pick Del Piero over Zidane. Just as the initial trickle of big names into the MLS caused some excitement, raised the profile of the league and the sport in the US, and saw more notable players make their way Stateside, there is cautious, but realistic optimism, that this could be replicated in India. At the time of writing, Ronaldinho is another name reportedly in discussions to be the latest to sign a contract with an ISL side.
Perhaps what the sport needs to develop on a major scale in the country though is a major star of their own. The Americans had the likes of Landon Donovan and Tim Howard to inspire them. There is not currently one Indian player at a level anywhere close to the likes of these two. The investment in coaching and academies associated with the ISL should go some way to helping to mould such a star (or two), the hope is that this comes sooner rather than later.
Key ISL Players
- Atletico Madrid – part own the Kolkata franchise with former cricketer Sourav Ganguly
- Sachin Tendulkar – part owns Kerala Blasters with PVP ventures
- Alessandro Del Piero – Delhi Dynamos FC (marquee player)
- Michael Chopra – Kerala Blasters
- David Trezeguet – FC Pune City (marquee player)
- Joan Capdevila – NorthEast United FC (marquee player)
- Antonio Lopez Habas – Manager of Atletico de Kolkata
- John Abraham – Bollywood star who part owns NorthEast United FC
- Peter Reid – Manager of Mumbai City FC
- Zico – Manager of FC Goa
- David James – Player/Manager at Kerala Blasters (marquee player)
- Bernard Mendy – Chennai
- Robert Pires – FC Goa
- Freddie Ljungberg – Mumbai City FC
- Luis Garcia – Atletico de Kolkata (marquee player)
ISL and the Premier League
An agreement has been reached with the Barclays Premier League which will see the ISL benefit from strategic support and advice in the form of brand promotion, club governance, fan engagement and everything else involved in effectively maintaining a major, nationwide league.
The popularity of the EPL in India is such that this relationship will benefit both parties, with extended promotion and coverage of the Premier League in India. The country is already the league’s top market in terms of social media engagement, it reaches on average 1.48m Indian fans each week.
The interaction between the Premier League and football in India have in the past taken place at a grassroots level. Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League, said: “We know from our broadcast partner Star India, and our work with AIFF on our long-established grassroots football project Premier Skills that we run in several locations across India, that the popularity of football, and Premier League, is growing. There is a further opportunity to develop the sport as a result of that increased interest and we hope to continue to make a real contribution to all levels of Indian football.”
Indian Betting Indutry
The IPL has endured a torrid time in terms of media coverage in the past couple of years as allegations of spot-fixing and illegal betting have been rife. Players and officials have been arrested whilst the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, N. Srinivasan, was asked to step down earlier this year.
Fears remain that the issue has not been solved however. Ian Botham has spoken out against the league, and stated that he believes it “provides the perfect opportunity for betting and therefore fixing”.
“I’m worried about the IPL – in fact, I fear it shouldn’t be there at all,” he continued.
Betting on cricket is entirely illegal in India, though it has long existed regardless outside of the law. The popularity of the IPL has merely increased this notorious market in the country. Since its inception in 2008, the IPL has also proven a popular (and above board I might add) betting market in the UK, the much loved live in-play betting feature is also utilised in the betting on matches during these events
Bookmakers will be hoping that the ISL proves equally popular amongst punters. Both competitions are short-lived, taking place over a two to three month period. This has the positive factor for customers in that outright bets will be paid out far quicker than in typical domestic leagues
A new league is always exciting, and with the level of big name players the league has already attracted it should gain some significant attention. If the league continues to progress, and the sport in the country gain even more momentum, then this league could easily be the next MLS. Indeed it has the potential to surpass the MLS. It just needs its own David Beckham scenario.
That said, the ISL already boasts names which millions will recognise from their not so long past Premier League glory days, should they continue to attract such names, it’s likely the UK betting market will take to the league like a duck to water.