When the Indian football team was thrown into a dreadful scenario in which they couldn't even beat Sri Lanka, one of the world's worst teams according to FIFA rankings, I was reminded of the amazing moments offered by India years ago when there was no ISL glitter and conversation.
It will be remembered as the struggle of the Indian football squad during a time when infrastructure was extremely poor. Why is the Indian football team failing now, despite greater facilities and a larger audience?
Since the 2007 Nehru Cup, I've been a fan of Indian football. I felt sympathetic to the squad that no one thought about or discussed. That might be why I'm so excited.
The Nehru Cup elicited a great deal of excitement in me. India beat Cambodia by a score of 6 goals in the opening match. India then trounced Bangladesh and Kyrgyzstan before falling to a strong Syria three goals to two.
The thrill of becoming winners after defeating Syria in the final thanks to a goal by Malayalee star NP Pradeep is noteworthy. Later, from the Santosh Trophy to the I League, I didn't miss a single Indian football match.
The Indian football team has been largely inconsistent in its performances over the years
India clinched the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup by routing Tajikistan by a score of four goals to one. With this triumph, India qualified for the 2011 Asian Cup for the first time in three decades. During the campaign, Team India defeated Turkmenistan, Myanmar, and Afghanistan. Years later, India couldn't even control the ball against them.
In 2010, India defeated Vietnam in a friendly, three goals to one in 2010. Sunil Chhetri scored a hat-trick to help India win the match. Sunil Chhetri is unfortunately the only one who is still scoring.
We can see how far we have come by looking at where Vietnam and Syria are today. The World Cup final qualifying round features Vietnam and Syria. Their World Cup dreams are within their sights. We're not even capable of defeating the SAFF teams. Who is to blame here?
Unfortunately, the Indian team has not been able to match what Indian football was like before to the Indian Super League. India's performance in the 2019 Asian Cup was promising under Stephen Constantine, but under Stimac, who followed Constantine, India crumbled.
The Indian Super League might be attractive, but its format is unhelpful for the Indian football team
I realize that before the ISL and the glitz, Indian players had the opportunity to play a lot of matches. They will compete against the finest teams in a variety of tournaments. Players and clubs are now awaiting the start of the Indian Super League, nothing else. In short, they have devolved into part-time players who are unable to play for 8 months of the year.
The Indian Super League, the world's fastest-ending league, is the biggest crisis confronting the Indian team today. Even the Bangladesh League, which has 13 clubs, lasts nine months, but the Indian Super League begins midway through the other leagues and concludes before they do.
While in other nations, each club plays more than thirty matches, the ISL clubs presently play less than twenty here. However, as a fan who followed Indian football prior to the ISL, I am really concerned that no one is considering the I-League, which has more matches and better players now, for national team selection.
I feel that an Indian coach who would like to see all of India's domestic league matches with an open mind is best for the country. Aside from that, coaches who spend a lot of time on tours overseas do not appear to benefit India.
Nevertheless, the decision to increase the number of matches in the Indian Super League next season is a positive step forward. At the same time, India must be able to build a squad from the roots up.
India should look to other Asian countries like Vietnam to re-build football from the grassroots
Vietnam can serve as a model in this regard. Instead of building a glamor league like India in a single day and unnecessarily adding a price tag to the players, what they have done is patiently reform from the grassroots and mold the best youth.
The majority of the players that battled in the 2018 Under-23 Asian Cup final are now members of the Vietnam team, which is competing in the last round of World Cup qualifiers today. The Indian squad, too, necessitates such a gradual transition, and one should not expect to be a member of the national team overnight.