Football or Association Football is inarguably the most popular sport in the world. The game has been termed as The Beautiful Game by one the legends of the game, Brazilian forward Pele. The sport is also known as The World Game. Why?
Stats Half: There are a little over 250 million professional footballers in the world. That’s 245 million more than the second highest sport in terms of professional players.
Every 4 years- FIFA, the governing body of Football, organises the FIFA World Cup. 210 countries from 6 continents are taking part in the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The World Cup is the premium event for football and it garners tremendous viewership ratings unlike any other sporting event. FIFA World Cup 2014 Final had the highest viewership ratings ever.
Stats Half: FIFA World Cup 2014 in Rio was estimated to be watched by 3.5 billion people across the world. (Nearly 50% of the world’s population). The Final of the FIFA World Cup 2014 itself achieved an estimated viewership of 1.01 billion people.
Stats Half: India has the second largest Football Fan base in the world, second only to Football giants, Brazil. India is home to 170 million football fans on an estimate.
In the world rankings, India is currently ranked at 148 out of 204 active countries. The rankings don’t lie and it reflects our true standing in world football. It represents our National Football Team’s form and results over the last 4 years. The reason for us to be at such a modest ranking is directly related to a lack of interest and determination from the side of the governing body of Indian Football- the AIFF (All India Football Federation), which has started to show signs of interest and responsibility in recent years albeit only enough to nudge the process forward.
The Indian national football team is managed by Stephen Constantine of England. He had been our coach between 2002-2005 and has been in charge since 2015 in his current job.
Present Scenario for Indian National Football Team
India is currently taking part in the qualifiers for the 2019 Asian Cup. 24 out of 46 nations in Asia take part in the Final tournament at UAE in 2019. Going by the rankings, we are 26th out of 46 nations. However, our short term aim is simple- Qualify for 2019 Asian Cup.
How do we do that? We will be drawn into a group of 4 teams in December or January. To qualify, we need to finish 2nd in the group. Qualifier matches will start from March 24th, 2017 and will happen throughout the year on FIFA International football days
Our prospects of qualifying are higher than ever before owing to the emergence of high quality football and training in the domestic (club) level in the country.
I won’t take long to mention Bengaluru FC under the positives of Club football in India. And what a positive it has been. Bengaluru FC is, hands-down, the best run club in this country. It is a gift to our city and our country. The trophies tell the whole story- 2 time I-league champions and Federation cup winners, all in 3 years of it’s existence. The club’s contribution to the national team is immense. As many as 8 players have been called up to the national team, while 5 players have been in the starting XI with 3 of them earning their debuts after playing for Bengaluru FC.
Bengaluru FC are also on the verge of making history to become the first Indian club ever to reach the Finals of the AFC cup (equivalent of UEFA Europa League, in asia) and possibly the first ever Indian club to win the title.
The emergence of ISL (Indian Super League) has been a mixed-bag. The coverage that it gets has helped in bringing football to more people around the country. However, it has failed to bring the revenue and funds back into the game for it to evolve in our country. It is showing signs of huge potential if it can be handled well for the betterment of the sport instead of the betterment of certain bottom-less pockets.
Stats Half: In terms of TV ratings, Stadium attendance and Social media coverage, ISL is the 5th Best League in the world. Behind English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and MLS.
Stats Half (Bonus): ISL reached a total of 5 million people in India on an estimate. However, in perspective that is a reach of 3% of the total football fans in India.
This shows that with complete dedication towards infrastructure, training and exposure, we can truly be one of the top nations in football, in the not-so distant future.
What does the future hold?
The future is dictated by what our grassroots football is like.
Bengaluru FC have started soccer schools across the city and have recruited young potential footballers into their residential-school wing. They are pioneering Indian football along with other established youth football schools like Tata Football Academy, PIFA, Bhaichung Bhutia Football schools.
ISL has it’s grassroots programme and is functioning relatively well. However there is no clear path from grassroots to first team yet.
In 2017, India will be hosting the Under-17 FIFA World Cup. Great players have taken part and won this trophy namely, Cesc Fàbregas, Toni Kroos, Anderson, Landon Donovan and current Man City forward, Kelechi Iheanacho, to name a few.
AIFF has completely dedicated itself to the development of a U-17 team for this tournament. They recruited players and coaches as early as 2014 and have a 2 year training period with foreign exposure trips to get them ready for the tournament.
Stats Half: The Indian squad which will play in the U-17 FIFA World Cup has played against nearly 20 different countries and has played more than 25 friendlies with U-17 club teams in Germany, Russia, Spain, Brazil, Norway, Czeck Republic and Singapore.
This U-17 team is full of talent and potential. It will be of no surprise if these same youngsters train well to take over the national team in years to come.
The future, as always, looks bright as ever. Everything is moving in the right direction. Grassroots football is still more or less stagnant in large parts of the country. The potential is huge, but the hard work only begins now.