Friday, 23 October 2015

India's football paradox: Why ISL’s popularity has left national team ‘at death’s door’

Stephen Constantine did not pay heed to all the warnings thrown at him. Second comings in football, he was cautioned, are seldom successful. But the Englishman, back in India after a rollercoaster ride with Rwanda, was confident he could turn things around.
Ten months on and India have won just one of the eight matches played under Constantine and have suffered five consecutive defeats in the second round of 2018 Russia World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup joint qualification. The world ranking is marginally better – 172 when he took charge, 167 now – but is scant consolation.
Look at the Indian football scene right now, however, and you’ll hardly see a furrowed brow. While India were getting whipped 3-0 by Oman in Muscat last week (watch below), more than 60,000 fans turned up at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata to watch the match between last year’s Indian Super League finalists Atletico Kolkata and Kerala Blasters. They were also there to try and get a glimpse of visiting Brazil legend Pele.
“It’s strange. You have 62,000 people watching ISL match in Kolkata,” All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary Kushal Das explains to Sport360. “It was a pretty good match to watch too. And then you have the Indian team, putting up a pathetic performance. The contrast is so stark that I don’t know what is happening. We have to find out for sure.”
Inadvertently, Das hit the nail on its head. Players who can’t conjure up one meaningful move in India colours are made to look like superstars when they rub shoulders with yesteryear heroes in the ISL. On one hand, you have a national team that does not have a decent training centre, and on the other ISL clubs are jetsetting around the world to train at the best facilities.
Fans now fear that India won’t make the cut for the 24-team Asian Cup in 2019, but the glitz and glamour of the ISL makes it seem all is well. Indian football exists in two parallel worlds. Caught up in this warp is the national team, which has been in freefall for some time now.

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