New Delhi: After cricket, kabaddi and badminton, Indians are getting ready for their tryst with franchise football. World football boss, Sepp Blatter, defined Indian football as a 'sleeping giant' during his visit in 2007. Blatter is now preparing to contest his fifth term as FIFA President, while the condition of Indian football remains constant, just as it was seven years ago.
Several attempts have been made to raise the profile of the beautiful game in India over the years without yielding the desired results. The National Football League (NFL) became the I-League, but very little has changed at the grassroot level. Sponsors are hard to find, crowds have deserted the stadiums and there have been times when India's top flight football had no broadcast partners.
Interest and enagagement levels of audience with football has sckyrocketed in India, but there are few takers for domestic football. The increase in coverage of football league across the globe – England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France highlights this fact. While, more European games are being broadcast on Indian televison channels, the I-League finds very little air time.
With the launch of the Indian Super League, the excitement around India as a football haven is rising again. This is the first attempt by India's football administrators to glamorize the sport. To be fair, they have struck all the right cords so far and managed to generate a certain amount of buzz around the league in its first edition.
It remains to be seen how a successful ISL will affect the domestic set-up. One key responsibily of the ISL clubs is to promote young talent and develop football at the grassroot level in India. The AIFF has given its assurance that despite the advent of a corporate backed football league, the I-League remains India's premier football league and is here to stay.
The ISL has everything. High profile players like Alessandro Del Piero, legends like Zico and collaborations with big European football clubs like Atletico Madrid. Club owners include the likes of Sachin Tendulkar Sourav Ganguly, Ranbir Kapoor, John Abraham, Abhishek Bachchan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
As the action kicks-off on October 12, it remains to be seen whether the Indian football fan embraces domestic football in its new avatar.