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The Indian Super League (ISL) has had an encouraging start in its first season. The long term benefits of the ISL has been a much debated topic among football fans but the positive impact that it has made in terms of visibility of Indian football not only in India but abroad is undeniable. Shane Burns provides an Irishman’s perspective to India’s latest footballing adventure.
The inception of the Hero Indian Super League has seen the footballing world’s eyes suddenly switch towards India for the first time in recent history. A nation fueled by the cricketing success of the national team throughout its short independent history, room for another sport to take precedent among the one billion Indian people was seen unlikely until the creation of the Super League that is currently underway. In 2010 after the South African World Cup tournament, the idea of making Indian football one of the major players on the planet was established when the first thoughts of a new league were developed into reality within four years.
The first attempts to create the league saw the Bengal Premier League Soccer established in 2012 and would see players such as Robbie Fowler, Fabio Cannavaro, Robert Pires and Hernan Crespo all agree in principal to ply their trade in the newly formed league. Due to financial reasons the idea was dismantled which brought great embarrassment to the All India Football Federation (AIFF). The dream of world viewership upon Indian football was cast in real doubt until mid 2013 when it was announced that the funding for a new league would be made available with cities throughout India bidding to be granted a franchise in their own city.
Alessandro Del Piero became the first major marquee signing when he rejected offers from Europe, Australia and America to spearhead the Delhi franchise’s attack. Other marquee players such as David James, Elano, David Trezeguet, Robert Pires and Nicolas Anelka swiftly announced their impending arrival in India by joining other franchises not only to capture the imagination of the European football fan but also make India a major world player in footballing terms.
From a personal point of view, the set up of the tournament has been nothing but a success in terms of the viewership here in Europe. The presence of stars easily recognizable to many of the viewers in the form of marquee signings previously plying their trade in Europe’s top five divisions whilst also achieving a great deal of success both domestically and internationally for their respected nations, has garnered interest in many football fans.
The impact of the ISL has also posed questions in my mind regarding the state of Indian football. Domestically the I-League is struggling at grassroots level and also at the highest possible level of the domestic game in India. Many stars of the I-League are featuring in the ISL in an attempt to achieve financial success but also showcase their ability on a worldwide scale. Unfortunately some of Indian football’s most iconic names such as Sunil Chhetri have refused offers from ISL teams as they have not been allowed to do so by their I-League club Bengaluru FC, who are of the belief that it will damage the existing league and its ability to produce players.
Interest in the ISL has grown more so in the United Kingdom and Ireland where Star Sports have broadcast the games live from India on each game day. Exclusive coverage and the input of some of the most iconic British commentators have added to the occasion. The style of football, passion from the fans and fast paced viewing all adds to the occasion which nobody could have predicted only a few short years ago.
Shortly we will see the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in India which will be the first FIFA tournament held in the sub-continent. Prospering times lay in store for Indian football and from an outsider’s point of view we can only look upon the project in India with hope and optimism that this great nation can achieve its dream of seeing its national team at a FIFA World Cup tournament. The success of the Indian Super League and knock on effect to the I-League will help those dreams become reality quicker than expected. A nation determined to achieve success, it’s evidently clear that the ISL could be a stepping stone for the development of the Indian national team. Fan crazed football fanatics have religiously tuned into the Barclays Premier League for years, now it’s simply our turn to tune into the Indian Super League and watch on as the impressive first half of the first edition continues to capture thousands of passionate football fanatics like yours truly.
Hopefully within the next few years we can see India playing at a higher level and the ISL continuing to be a success. Already at this stage of the competition, more goals have been scored than there was in 1992 when the inception of the Premier League came about. There’s no denying that if any nation can achieve success on the world stage, it’s India. With unlimited funds, vast resources and dedicated, passionate fans, the future of Indian football looks bright from a westerner’s point of view.
Written by Shane Burns