x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Charity must begin at home for Indian investors in football

Until India's rich forget about the likes of Blackburn and focus on their own fields of green, instead, that state of affairs is unlikely to change anytime soon.

United Sikkim won the promotion to the I-league in the second year of inception. Bijoy Gurung
United Sikkim won the promotion to the I-league in the second year of inception. Bijoy Gurung

A backdoor entry to the Asian Cup in January 2011 was supposed to herald better times for Indian football. But over a year on, there is little by way of positive change when it comes to investment or improving I-League standards.

The Pune-based Venky's bought Blackburn Rovers in 2011 but are caught up in a Premier League relegation battle, not what they envisaged when they promised Ronaldinho, Beckham and top-five finishes.

Other Indian firms have eyed teams like Newcastle, but interest in the domestic product remains so lukewarm that two storied clubs, Mahindra United and JCT, have shut up shop in the past 24 months.

The Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have struggled recently and the centre of power has shifted to Goa, where Armando Colaco's coaching made Dempo, run by a mining company, the country's top side.

Things are even worse in Kerala, which once produced some of India's finest players. Chirag United Club Kerala now trawl the lower reaches of the I-League.

With European football on TV, the appetite for local fare has waned. The only exception is the north-east, where Shillong Lajong and United Sikkim have tapped into the passion for the game in the only part of India yet to be enslaved by cricket.

Playing standards lag far behind those in other parts of Asia, though. There are few quality imports and a league based on cricket's IPL ran into teething problems this year.

Until India's rich forget about the likes of Blackburn and focus on their own fields of green, instead, that state of affairs is unlikely to change anytime soon.

sports@thenational.ae

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