The Indian Football Team begins 2016 on a high note, winning the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup for the record seventh time, by staging a comeback from 1-0 down to beat the defending champions Afghanistan. Indian’s captain, Sunil Chhetri, provided the winner, after the promising Jeje – who is finally coming of age and turning in consistent performances – equalized for the Blue Tigers. The All India Football Federation also promised a sum of 50,000 dollars to their team, matching the prize money for winning the competition.
But more importantly, this was a tournament where a few fine youngsters were blooded by the Indian coach Stephen Constantine, fulfilling his promise of giving the young lads a run in the first team, and in the process discovering hidden gems such as Rowlin Borges and 18 year old midfielder Lallianzuala Chhangte, the latter bursting on to the stage with a truly world class goal.
Despite winning the SAFF Cup, the challenges ahead are many for Indian Football, but for now, we are on the right path. This then, is the right time to address the question as to whether Football can be practiced as a full time profession in India. Our answer? Yes, but it will require tremendous amounts of hard work, practice, and determination. Here is how one can go about with it:
The I League
The I League is the highest Indian League where a player can ply his trade. Most Indian players play for these I League clubs throughout the year, and the league also has a smattering of good African players. And even today, when some of these clubs have shut down, or are considering shutting down, the league continues to thrive, and the players continue to get decent salaries.
The Indian Super League (ISL)
The ISL is a 2-3 month footballing bonanza, bringing the best Indian players together on field with some of the past legends of the game. But more importantly, it is backed by IMG and Reliance, and has huge funds to draw upon – as can be seen by the extravagant salaries paid to a number of players. For a player looking at practicing his trade in India, the ISL is where it’s all at – the glamour, the huge crowds, and the money. The ISL clubs are also beginning their grassroots programs to find the best local talent, go for it!
In the past, a lot of Indian players have been unwilling to venture overseas to lesser known leagues, instead being content with drawing a good pay-check in the I League. However to truly develop one’s game, it is imperative to play in conditions away from home. The Eastern European Leagues are a good place to start, and the harsh and unusual climatic conditions there will be a test of fire for the players, forcing them to improve their game and become even better.
FIFA Coaching Badges
Beyond playing, football aficionados can also do their FIFA coaching badges and work with clubs as coaches, trainers or managers to carve a career in the world of football. After all, a football club needs a lot more than just players to work successfully. Most of the top managers in world football were never great players in their youth, and some like Jose Mourinho never played any professional football.
Football clubs, academies, and federations require interested and knowledgeable people for their successful running. Again, lovers of the beautiful game can take a number of degrees in the sport, such as an MBA or Masters in Sports Management, thereby working closely with the sport they love. Even aspiring football players can take these degrees as they practice their trade so that they can get into the administrative side of the game once they hang up their boots. Some of world football’s top players are also extremely educated and smart people, with strong degrees to go with their professional footballing career.
The Indian Football scene is slowly but surely growing, and for those willing to work hard and not give up, the time is ripe to enter the sport!