Foreign players advocate long-term investment for league’s success.
MUMBAI: India’s glitzy football league returns this weekend, but a struggling national team and insufficient facilities in the cricket-mad country means the “sleeping giant” of world football is unlikely to stir anytime soon.
India languish in 155th place in the FIFA world rankings and a recent humiliating 2-1 loss to tiny Guam further underscored the country’s urgent need to develop a crop of future stars.
But foreign players, who have flocked to the Indian Super League (ISL) for the second season, said more youngsters would only turn to the beautiful game if there were green spaces to play on.
“All the kids love football. They want to play football but there are no facilities,” said former French international Nicolas Anelka.
Anelka, the player-manager of Mumbai City FC, said even his own side was having trouble finding a grass pitch to prepare for the coming season. “We have to find a way to train on normal grass [instead of artificial turf]. We have to find something. I don’t know when, I don’t know how,” said the frustrated Frenchman.
Former caretaker England boss Peter Taylor, who famously handed David Beckham the captaincy of “The Three Lions”, said the infrastructure he has seen since being appointed Kerala Blasters coach is troubling.
“I look at some of the facilities and again they could improve, there’s no doubt about that because some of the pitches should be better,” Taylor told reporters.
The eight-team ISL kicks off on Saturday with Chennaiyin FC, managed by World Cup winner Marco Materazzi, taking on defending champions Atletico de Kolkata, starring Portuguese striker Helder Postiga. The 10-week tournament drew tens of thousands of supporters in its first year and has been credited with helping to boost football’s popularity in India through its string of big names.
Brazilian great Zico, FC Goa’s coach, praised the ISL for raising the sport’s profile but stressed that long-term investment, opportunities and time were also needed to help steal attention from cricket.
“In Japan they used to play baseball, and then they built a lot of football grounds, and then people could play football,” explained the former Japan national team boss.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2015.
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