Football is still a poor cousin to cricket in India, but the recent financial splurge on the Indian Super League (ISL) is tantamount to give a new lease of life to the sport. Amidst promotional obligations, the beautiful game can finally hope for a firm foothold in the country.
The world of football will witness the sleeping giant awake once again, for two-month long sporting carnival. It's indeed heartening to find celebrities from every walk of life contributing their might in the successful passage of the tournament and are helping the game grow.
The initiatives taken by some of India's biggest 'other' sporting stars - past and present – need special mention and we ought to give them due respect. By lending their credence, in a cricket obsessed country, football has once again found relevance in the national sporting set-up, and in the process Indian football can validate its importance. After all, football is the game the world plays.
In such a transitional phase, watching Indian players rub shoulders with legends from other leagues, alongside a Sachin Tendulkar or a Sourav Ganguly and host of other hugely popular celebrities provides that extra zing to our collective experience. The huge success of the inaugural season, in 2014, is a proof of this fact. The world is waiting with bated breath to see ISL grow and find further success in its second edition.
It's indeed ironic, though, that cricketers have walked an extra mile for football's cause in India. This gravitas might have come from the fact that they have enjoyed an unrivaled support, which in turn helped them become obscenely rich and superstars in their own rights with billions following their every move. In a way, it may well read a poetic justice for football and other sports to have benefited from their associations with cricket and its superstars.
There's no harm in utilizing the cricket money in other sports too. By giving access to its enormous fund, other sports can also tap into the huge pool of resources – both capital and human – which were considered cricket's exclusive rights.
When Tendulkar joined hands with his long time opening partner Ganguly to promote football in India, and eventually owned the Kerala Blasters FC, it turned out to be the Midas touch for the fledging sport.
Known as the 'God of Cricket', he helped football find new avenues, tapping a large pool of talented but obscure footballers.
Besides the celebrity clout, he also brought in credibility. Watching the 'Little Master' attending football matches and interacting with budding players gave goosebumps to every Indian. It also proved that India's beloved son can also wield his magic wand on a football field.
And he found a perfect ally in Ganguly, from the Maidan itself. Regarded as one of the greatest captains, Dada, who is himself a huge football fan, further enhanced his credibility by utilizing his astute management skills in launching a Kolkata-based franchise, which also brought in the technical know-hows from Spanish giants Atletico de Madrid.
Besides the two legends, two of India's prominent cricketers Mahendra Singh Dhoni (with Chennayin FC) and Virat Kohli (FC Goa) also jumped on the ISL bandwagon, investing money in the yet to be exploited football league, which promises to become a gold mine in years to come. Their presence in the tournament, does increase the brand's visibility, thus attracting many corporate houses.
Credit also must be given to tinsel town celebrities and industrialists, who have seen the glamour in football. But the helping hand that Indian football has received from cricketers, has been a heartening experience for everyone involved.