What are the disadvantages of Indian football

Starting shot for India's new soccer league

Anelka, Trézéguet, del Piero, Materazzi, Pirès, Ljungberg - sonorous names that sound like a Champions League selection from the beginning of the 21st century. But the football stars mentioned above are not only connected by the fact that they have already passed their prime: They will all play in India's newly founded professional league ISL from October 12, 2014. And in the middle of it all is a German: Central defender Manuel Friedrich was already active in the Bundesliga for Mainz 05, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund and will now lace his football boots for Mumbai City FC. "I really wanted to go to Asia a year and a half ago," says the 35-year-old, "but that was the first offer where I had the feeling that people really were behind it. And then the whole starting point: that one thing It will be a completely new league that it will take place in a kind of tournament form that the main goal will be to make football more attractive here in India because football is not the number 1 sport in the country just impressed me. "

New league, old stars

Has settled in well in Mumbai: Manuel Friedrich

Friedrich's new club is one of eight retort clubs of the new Indian Super League (ISL), which have been randomly distributed across the country as a franchise company. They listen to such illustrious names as "Chennai Titans", "Delhi Dynamos", "Kerala Blasters" or "Atlético de Kolkata". And they pursue a wonderful concept: each of the clubs should be led by an international "football legend". In addition, seven more foreigners play in each team. In addition, there are 14 Indians - the team squad is ready. The club's patrons are mainly former cricket stars, Bollywood greats and industrial tycoons.

No doubt: the newly created Indian Super League (ISL) is a total artifact, created within a very short time by the marketing company IMG and the media empire of Rupert Murdoch, which smells big business in India. 1.2 billion people live on the subcontinent, around 80 million are said to regularly sit in front of the television at football games - only they have so far not followed Indian games, but mainly the European Champions League, explains Arunava Chowdhury, the manager of Friedrichs Klub Mumbai City FC. The new ISL is intended to inspire the Indians for local football. The whole season only lasts three months. In December it is already clear who will be able to raise the championship trophy.

"Of course it depends a lot on how it is accepted, how attractive football we offer, whether we also attract people to the stadiums," explains Manuel Friedrich. "But we have our opening game in Kolkata on Sunday, and 120,000 people will be watching. Well, I think you will notice the atmosphere and anticipation when you walk into the stadium," said the former German international.

Structural disadvantages for football

Football in India - away from the big stadiums

India has had a soccer league since 2007. But the I-League is bobbing around on the verge of insignificance: While football in Calcutta electrifies the masses, the rest of the country has so far been rather sad. An average of 6,000 spectators get lost for the I-League games. And the Indian national team does not exactly pull their fans into storms of enthusiasm either. In the current FIFA world rankings, India is a miserable 158th place - between Puerto Rico and Swaziland.

So far, football has had a rather difficult time in India. Because the favorite sport of Indians is and remains cricket. Football, on the other hand, has so far lacked sponsors. The ratings on television are also rather bad. There is no talent scouting, no professional club structures, not even enough stadiums with floodlights. Many I-League games therefore take place during the day - at temperatures of up to 45 degrees in some places, this means a great deal of physical effort for players and spectators alike.

But there has been a lot of movement in Indian football in recent years. "With the ISL, we are establishing football in India at the top level," says Mumbai manager Chowdhury with conviction. "At the same time, the Indian Football Association is working with the regional associations to give club football a more professional structure throughout the country. It is building regional youth centers. The ISL franchise clubs are now also starting their own basic programs to promote youth football."

Model J-League?

In the 0: 4 in the friendly against Bayern Munich 2012, India's national team had no chance

Indian football fans hope for a similar development as in Japan. Football did not play a major role there until the 1990s - baseball and sumo wrestling were much more popular. But then the professional league J. League started in 1993 - with franchise clubs, sponsorship money and international old stars who were supposed to inspire the audience. The J. League has now successfully shaken off its status as an "operetta league". Instead, the league today impresses with effective youth work, state-of-the-art performance centers and internationally successful football: until 1998, the Japanese national team was not represented at a single World Cup. She hasn't missed a single one since 1998.

Arunava Chowdhury, however, warns against too high expectations for India. "It will certainly take more than ten years before Indian football reaches a level at which it could qualify for a World Cup," said the manager. "The first step is to even qualify for the Asian Championships on a regular basis. Only then can we start thinking about higher goals."