Manchester: Indian-origin English footballer Michael Chopra, who will turn up for the Sachin Tendulkar co-owned Kerala Blasters in the inaugural Indian Super League, says he wants to "boost" the football scene in India and improve the country's youth set-up.
The former Newcastle United and England Under-21 striker Chopra stated that he intends to play an important role in helping develop football in India with his contributions on and off the pitch.
"I want to boost football in India. There are 1.2 billion people. I want to be a part of making football a legacy out there. I want to improve the youth set-up. When I was growing up my hero was Alan Shearer. I want the kids in India growing up to say 'My hero is Michael Chopra'," Chopra said.
The 30-year-old was speaking during the India session of Soccerex Global Convention here. The debate was titled 'Building Football's Sleeping Giant'.
A group of 25 Indian delegates from diverse backgrounds was led by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Libero Sports.
With the ISL set to kick off next month, Sunando Dhar, I-League's CEO, stressed that there would be a 'trickle down' effect on the nation's premier domestic competition.
"In the last month or so, the kind of attention India has received worldwide has been not been seen in recent past. Credit has to go to the ISL for that and that will have a trickle-down effect on the I-League as well.
"It's a mutual and not step brotherly treatment towards each other. We are trying to work to take Indian football to another level and as we are at a crossroad. We are trying new things like last year we brought in direct entries into the I-League. The ISL bringing in star attractions, celebs and foreign players that will ensure, football will be discussed more in India."
AIFF general secretary Kushal Das highlighted that the good times have begun for Indian football with the Under-17 World Cup in 2017 and a new league set to kick off.
"We have new investors coming into the Indian market. There are eight serious franchisees in the ISL and now we have another major addition in the I-League as well. Things are moving in the right direction with the AIFF focused on developing the youth and grassroots in order to build the sports bottom up," said Das.
Shirish Kulkarni, President of Liverpool International Football Academy DSK-Shivajians, mentioned that while the focus has been on the ISL and the I-League, it's vital to improve the infrastructure and provide the right platform for the talent to develop.
"If today we develop the youth, tomorrow they will become much better footballers. The infrastructure has to improve and now the ISL and I-League clubs have started working on it. The youth set up is going to be the most critical aspect for football in India in the next few years."
Rajpal Singh, Director at FICCI, elaborated further on how India looks to football's developed nations for technical expertise.
"We, at FICCI, look forward to more international conferences like the Soccerex which provides the apt platform for people from various backgrounds to come together. I can certainly vouch for the fact that the Indian delegation would have enhanced their knowledge," Singh said.