Soccer Potential in India

By | November 18, 2013

Being ‘the global game’ it is sometimes surprising why there is no mention of India. They have a hard working, extremely large population in a country that has been expanding through its industrial age. When I visit, I see international jerseys everywhere, so it’s quite true that soccer fans are in number in India. I went to large viewing parties to see Manchester United play at my cousin’s college. I used to go running in the mornings along Juhu beach on the Indian Ocean edge of Maharashtra, and saw small and large sided beach soccer games every time I went. Just like in Brazil or other Latin American countries, you can see youth playing with whatever spherical objects they can find. The love of the game is there, so the question is why isn’t the team there? To say India is not a sporting nation would be a flaw, as they have been a long-standing dominant force in cricket. If British brought cricket to India, why did soccer not bleed into Indian culture in the same way other colonies leeched the sport from their parent countries?

The problem lies in the lack of infrastructure – especially at the youth levels. While I did see many children kicking a ball around and playing small sided games there was never a sense of much organization. They play for fun and as the children get older and older, a lot of the athletes will migrate towards cricket. There is a dearth of good soccer fields, while fine cricket pitches are peppered throughout Mumbai, and I’m sure this rings true for the rest of India. At the end of the day, this makes sense as Indians are crazy about cricket. The national team is one of the proudest icons of India, and the money they make is extraordinary. So it is not uncommon to see the better athletes being funneled into the sport which seems more within reach and it seen on a daily basis. Being a country with a very large impoverished population and a government filled with many corrupt official, the investment is surely going to have to come from the outside, though that may not be too far off.

Manchester United and Liverpool, among other clubs, have decided to take a gamble and reach out to talent in India by offering academies. Man U opened their academy in Delhi and the club is really bringing soccer excitement to the area. Not only is the club providing coaching to the youth by their club’s own youth developers, they also are providing teaching to Indian coaches to help them further the game. Liverpool FC has also made forays into the subcontinent recently opening up their own center in Pune. The facility features pitches, classrooms, a gym, cafeteria, lecture halls, and medical facilities. They too are supplying their own academy coaches seeking to find gems in the Indian talent pool. This is a good venture for both sides, as Liverpool is able to garner many more soccer fans in a cricket crazed country, while the Indian youth are being exposed to top level coaching. India themselves are also investing with the hiring of Dutch coach Robert Baan as the nation’s first technical director. He was previously the director in the Netherlands and Australia and is ambitious, trying to propel India to a future World Cup berth. He is opening residential academies under the All India Football Federation (AIFF), providing free education alongside soccer training. It might be a while until we see notable Indian players pop up, but it is good to see the grassroots foundation has been laid so these players at least have a chance.

In the cricket world, India recently introduced a league to feed the yearning for more cricket – The Indian Premier League (IPL). Its season last less than two months bringing in all the worlds cricket superstars while maintaining a focus on Indian cricket (22/33 of each team’s players must be of Indian nationality). The tournament has brought in immense amounts of money with PepsiCo being a title sponsor. It is this kind of league that the soccer needs in India, and it is now becoming a reality. Billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Rupert Murdoch have joined forces to launch a league to mirror the IPL.  This league has also gathered big name sponsors and aims to inspire the youth as well as gain more of an overall soccer following on the national level. Stars (albeit former) such as Thierry Henry and Michael Owen are being courted to play alongside India’s own national stars. Such a league might be the missing piece alongside the new academies to finally bring India to the world soccer stage.

3 thoughts on “Soccer Potential in India

  1. Vinay Kumar

    It is always surprising to me that India lacks athletes not only in football but also in sports such as basketball, baseball, etc. In a nation with over a billion people there really should be more professional athletes in these sports. However, I think you really nail the issue with your infrastructure point and I would go on to add that the income disparities in India do not help. It is amazing how quickly the facilities and resources can change from town to town in a matter of 15 minutes. Fortunately, in the case of football, less resources or changes to fields are required to play which should help the sport. I think the influence of Man U and Liverpool will be huge in terms of establishing an organized system that can teach and guide kids. This story reminds me of Nike’s influence on basketball in China in the 1990s and 2000s ( The company had a huge role in bringing the sport to China by establishing courts around the country and using an intensive media campaign. As a result, they were able to dominate in basketball product sales in China and still have a tight hold on the market. Similarly, I think it would benefit a lot of corporations/clubs to invest in the development of India’s football market as it will likely pay off if the sport catches on with the younger generation. It doesn’t surprise me that Mukesh Ambani is already trying to establish the league as that is definitely an integral first step in terms of developing the market.

  2. Kavin Tamizhmani

    As I have visited India on multiple occasions, I have often wondered the same thing. Why isn’t soccer more popular and successful in a country that is very successful in other aspects of globalization? As Vishnu mentioned, cricket has been dominant for so long that it has become undisputedly the number one game. With academies and domestic leagues recruiting talent, the India cricket squad has always been competitive in the sport. Additionally, the lack of infrastructure as you have detailed is most likely the major reason for soccer’s slow progression in the country. The Indian national soccer team is virtually unheard of as it only plays select friendlies. Without a domestic league, proper national team, and financial compensation for players who want to pursue a career as a soccer player, it remains difficult for Indians to venture into the sport. I hope that more successful clubs such as Liverpool invest in top level talent in India and try to garner a strong following for the game and this ultimately translates into the nurturing of players that will be iconic for the nation moving forward.

  3. Vishnu Kadiyala

    While foriegn starts will help the popularity of the game, I don;t see cricket being even remotely challenged as long as India has no bona fide star. . It’s going to take someone playing wither in the top clubs of the EPL or La Liga to actually get people’s attention.

    That being said, there is a lot of untapped potential in India. West Bengal, especially, has a rich tradition that could be tapped- in terms of Mohun Began and East Bengal


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