India has three times the world’s population, although in the near future the population of this country may surpass that of China. Despite this, the Indian national team is far from an international success, sitting on a modest 162 line of the FIFA world ranking. However, the all India football Federation recently announced plans to develop football in the country. One of the main tasks is to create a strong and competitive League, which will increase the interest in football in the country, and the national team should get to the 2026 World Cup.
The formula “Strong championship – strong national team” does not always work (these guys will confirm), but it is exactly what Indian football managers have taken as a basis. As for the interest from the audience, here football has more than a serious competitor in the face of cricket, which in terms of its influence can be considered a religion in India.
By the way, the Indian national team was already one step away from participating in the final stage of the world championship. In 1950, the World Cup was held in Brazil, although many countries were experiencing the consequences of the second World war, and many were not up to football. The Indians won their qualifying group without a fight – the teams of Burma, Indonesia and the Philippines simply did not come to the matches. However, the Indians themselves, who so easily got the right to participate in the world championship, did not go to Brazil. According to rumors, the reason for the refusal was a demand from FIFA, according to which the Indian national team must play…in shoes! Used to playing barefoot Indians this requirement confused so much that they decided to refuse to participate in the tournament.
The first serious domestic League appeared in 1996, was semi-professional, but received a resounding name National Football League (NFL) – the same as the super popular League in American football. The Indians even managed to sell the rights to broadcast matches to STAR TV, owned by media Mogul Rupert Murdoch, for one million dollars a year.
In 2006, the name was changed to the I-League, and the League itself became fully professional, it had a second League, that is, in General, the championship took the usual European football look.
In 2010, the local Federation sold all commercial rights, including broadcasting, sponsorship, advertising, merchandising, and the right to create a new League, to the world sports giant IMG for 105 million for a period of 15 years, and also entered into an agreement with the American company Reliance Industries. The American guests planned to create a championship in the image and likeness of MLS, as well as a scheme resembling the local cricket championship.
A month later, the leaders of 12 of the 14 I-League clubs held a meeting in Mumbai, after which they announced their reluctance to participate in the championship under the new format imposed by the Americans. A split between local football executives and foreign investors has led to two leagues operating in India until recently. Representatives of the I-League held from December to may were considered the official championship of India in football, and its clubs played in the AFC Cup – the Asian equivalent of the Europa League, the second most prestigious international club tournament in Asia.
However, the rapid development of a League fueled by American money does not guarantee the rapid development of the national team. We will not see any Indians at the upcoming World Cup in Russia. In their qualifying group, the Indian team skipped ahead of Oman, Iran, Turkmenistan and GUAM, and won the only victory over the latter. The only player of the national team playing outside of India is the goalkeeper Gurpreet Sindh Sandhu, sitting on the bench of the Norwegian “Stabek”, and the leader of the team and its captain Sunil Chhetri a few years ago could not even get a foothold in the second team of sporting Lisbon. Once again, it is obvious that the development of the domestic League and the national team does not always go in parallel.