Press Release

ISL forced Indian football out of its slumber and got it running

24 December 2014

 A couple of hours after FC Goa were left in tears by Atletico de Kolkata in the second leg semifinal at Fatorda, some members of the squad decided to take a bite at a famous restaurant in South Goa.

There were three players and an equal number of officials and what they experienced close to midnight took them by surprise.
"There was one elderly man who appeared high after a few drinks. He walked up to us and said he had cleared our bill which was around Rs 3,200. We said it was not needed but the man insisted this was for all the lovely memories that FC Goa had provided to all the fans," said one official, choking with emotion. When the idea of the Indian Super League (ISL) was proposed, many greeted it with skepticism. An overwhelming majority were dismissive saying what worked for cricket - modelled on the lines of IPL T20 - will be a disaster in football, but just like that punch-drunk fan in Goa, the league has left behind wonderful memories. "What the ISL has done is incredible," said Gouramangi Singh, who covered himself in glory playing alongside former Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre for Chennaiyin FC. "Suddenly, the nation discusses Indian football, fans are thronging to the stadiums everywhere and footballers like us are getting noticed all around the world. It all seems like a dream," said Gouramangi. It's no dream world; should Gouramangi pinch himself, he would know. The crowd attendance figures are reported to be fourth best in the world and the explosion on the social media is something that was exclusively reserved for European football in the past. When the I-League -- India's premier football competition - was launched in 2007, Fifa president Sepp Blatter hoped it would awaken a sleeping giant. The ISL, though, seems to have done much more. Indian football has rolled out of bed and is now up and about. The league was always made for Indians, by an Indian corporate giant though boosted by foreign stellar material, and befittingly taken to its climax by the effervescence of an Indian - Mohammad Rafique. "We have always said that this league is not about the marquee players. It's about Indians. Just look at the final how Rafique scored the winning goal. The potential (for Indian players) is no doubt enormous," said Atletico de Kolkata captain and marquee manager Luis Garcia. Garcia has a point. Players like Romeo Fernandes and Bikramjit Singh, unknown earlier, are now looking at foreign options.Someone like Sandesh Jhingan has no doubt that his future lies outside the country and the likes of Nadong Bhutia, Subhash Singh, TP Reheneesh, Aiborlang Khongjee, Cavin Lobo and Lalrindika Ralte are all household names. Of course, not everything went according to script. FC Goa coach Zico was uncomfortable with the idea of having six foreign players, David James pointed a finger at the "near nonexistent" infrastructure for training, Antonio Lopez Habas criticized the punishing schedule and Mumbai City FC defender Manuel Friedrich could not believe his eyes, and ears, when fireworks rocked their home stadium even though they had conceded a goal! Next year, hopefully, a lot of minor irritants will be done away with but the prospect of the league enticing younger marquee players, and better foreign players, remains exciting. Never has Indian football felt so good.


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