The Indian cricket team is unbeatable

"Making soccer 100 times bigger in India"

With Del Piero and Co.

Just behind the Maldives and Guyana, at least two places ahead of Swaziland: India, the seventh largest country in the world, recently found no eleven among 1.25 billion people who could have beaten Palestine (2: 3) or Bangladesh (2: 2).

India ranks 158th in the FIFA world rankings. That should change, urgently.

In 2017, the U17 World Cup will be the first international tournament on Indian soil. Until then, the Indian association AIFF would like to be somewhat competitive. With the start of the Indian Super League (ISL) last weekend, not only did an operetta league begin with a few old stars like Nicolas Anelka or Alessandro Del Piero (photo), but above all a major advertising campaign for football as a mass sport.

“I hope that the ISL will bring football to the next level in India,” said Andy Knee, Vice President of the international sports marketer IMG, who launched the new league in collaboration with AIFF. The Indian Super League runs virtually out of competition in the Indian league structure - the actual Indian first division, the so-called I-League, continues to exist and starts in December.

When Knee talks about the leap forward, of course, he means less the sporty than the economic. India is a gigantic, almost unused market: “The football business here is still very small. We should make it 100 times bigger, ”said Knee.

To ensure that this succeeds, the planners oriented themselves towards the extremely popular Indian cricket league IPL, based on the model of which a badminton and hockey league has been founded in recent years. Eight teams play the championship over two and a half months, including playoffs. All teams must have at least one (former) top international player and have four regional talents in their squad.

+++ Opening bankruptcy for Friedrich against Kolkata +++

The rest of the teams are made up of Indian and international players. With the former Dortmund man Manuel Friedrich (35) there is also a German at Mumbai City FC - and lost the opening game of the league on Saturday 3-0 against Atlético de Kolkata.

The international stars almost exclusively include players who have already passed their zenith: In addition to Anelka (35) and Del Piero (39), Marco Materazzi (41, as player-coach), David Trézéguet (37), Frederik Ljungberg ( 37), Robert Pirès (40), Mikael Silvestre (37), Adrian Mutu (35), Konstantinos Katsouranis (35), David James (44) and Elano (33) in India.

+++ Category over 35: The old stars in the ISL at a glance +++

Because of these names, a kind of hype has arisen around the ISL in India and even in Europe you can watch the games live on Eurosport 2.

The teams function as franchises in a similar way to US sport, and were bought by cricket stars, Bollywood actors and business tycoons. Bollywood stars and cricket legends are an unbeatable combination in India and actually guarantee disproportionate attention.

But even if the ISL finds an audience and lets young people dream of becoming footballers themselves: Whether Indian football will ultimately benefit from the ISL remains doubtful.

The problem so far is that very few children and young people in India play football. The number 1 global sport is at best a niche phenomenon between Delhi and Mumbai. The children who play sports in the streets play cricket.

The ISL shouldn't change that for now, because the league invests at the amateur level: nothing. IMG neither wants to build soccer fields nor invest any money in promoting young talent. “We hope it will develop organically. The greater interest in football will give him more space, ”says Andy Knee.

What gives hope for the Indian national team ambitions: Several international teams, including Atlético Madrid and Fiorentina, have entered into partnerships with ISL teams and are helping with talent search and training. Above all, however, the clubs hope to conquer an as yet untapped market before the omnipresent competition - Barcelona, ​​Real, Arsenal.

Either way: The partnerships and the ISL could lead to a first Indian in the Bundesliga, Serie A or Premier League in the medium term. And, that is probably more important for the development of Indian football, to spare the very patriotic population at least one debacle at the U17 World Cup in three years.

If that succeeds, India may attack Europe in the world rankings in the long term. Luxembourg, for example, is only 31 places away.

+++ The 1st day of the ISL at a glance +++


Author: Anant Agarwala

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