An emerging football market

Despite the Indian Premier Soccer League faltering, India’s football administrators see a rosy future.

India football fans
The India Premier Soccer League remains beset by problems but administrators are confident of the potential for the growth of football in the country [GETTY]

Former Thailand and Manchester City manager Peter Reid is adamant that the uncertainty over the Indian Premier Soccer League (IPSL) has not deterred him from a possible future coaching role in South Asia.

The six-team tournament, with a format similar to cricket’s IPL, was due to take place in the state of Bengal in March.

Big-spending franchises invested seven million dollars on former internationals and high profile managers. Some of the players who signed up included ex-Arsenal and French internationalist Robert Pires, former Argentina and Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo, ex-Liverpool and England forward Robbie Fowler and former Italian and Juventus defender Fabio Cannavaro. 

The event now seems unlikely to take place due to concerns ranging from player registrations and stadium infrastructure.

Speaking at March’s Soccerex European Forum in Manchester, England, Reid was hopeful that the IPSL could be rescheduled.

“There is no doubt there are good coaches and players in India. My friend Steve Darby has coached there in the past and he has given me a vital insight. I have not gone into this with my eyes closed.“ said Reid.

“Cricket is the number one sport in the country but there is room for football. I would not have put my name forward if I didn’t think I could bring something to the party. India truly excites me. I have managed at a high level in the UK as well as in Thailand. I am more than willing to go to India and help in any way I can.”

Developing potential

During the conference, organisers hosted a session on how best to develop the football in India. Panellists included Kushal Das, General Secretary of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), Mario de Vivo, Chief Commercial Officer of Inter Milan and Jefferson Slack, the Senior Vice President of Global Business Development of Football at IMG.

Mr Das stated FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s recent visit to the India was “highly significant”.

“Mr Blatter has gone on record to say he would like India to host the World Cup. The earliest it can come to India and Asia is 2030 given it is being held in Qatar in 2022. Even 2030 could be too soon. 

“A more realistic option is the under-17 World Cup in five years time. Both the President and Prime Minister told Mr Blatter that the Indian Government was fully supportive of our bid to host the under-17 World Cup,” said Das.

In fact the Government’s preferred sport is now football. After all football is a global game and India is a global player. If we are successful in getting the under-17 World Cup it would be a game-changer and take the profile of football onto the next level.

– Kushal Das

“In fact the Government’s preferred sport is now football. After all football is a global game and India is a global player. If we are successful in getting the under-17 World Cup it would be a game-changer and take the profile of football onto the next level.”

Other nations scheduled to host the tournament between that include Brazil in 2014 and Russia in 2018.

Mr Das also said it was for the government to consider relaxing laws that would allow players of Indian origin in Europe to represent India and international level.

Marketing opportunity
In 2010 IMG teamed up with Reliance Industries, India’s largest company, to sign a 15-year $150 million deal with the AIFF with the aim of promoting the game from grass roots to professional level. In addition the deal also gives IMG Reliance full commercial rights to football under the jurisdiction of the AIFF as well as any new future leagues.

“We don’t believe there is a more exciting football market in the world than India,” said IMG’s Jefferson Slack.

“You have a hugely competitive media environment, a growing young population who are passionate about football. You have young children telling their fathers that cricket was your sport but football is mine.

“There are no doubt challenges from political, player development and upgrading stadia. There is major interest in the English Premier League but not too much in the domestic I league. 

“We want to find a fine balance. In the short term you have to get Bollywood involved and bring in foreign players. In the long term it is the case of making Indian players better. There is a Lionel Messi in India.”

Inter Milan are just one Europe’s leading clubs – including Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Rangers and Celtic – that are eyeing up the potential lucrative Indian market.

Germany’s former European Champions Bayern Munich have made five visits to the country and Barcelona are considering a pre-season friendly in Calcutta. Earlier this season Glasgow Rangers offered Hindi Twitter commentary on their SPL match against St Johnstone. 

A group of Indian youngsters are due to spend time at Inter Milan’s Italian training ground by the end of the end of the year.

Arunava Chaudhuri a consultant and specialist in Indian football believes despite initial euphoria IMG Reliance have so far failed to deliver a workable plan, increasing the chances of a rebel league being formed.

Others felt many European clubs were keen on taking exploiting India commercially rather than employing a 5-to-10 year plan, which would not only be more lucrative in generating revenues but also improve the standard of football in the country.

Source: Al Jazeera