Where should I play football in Delhi

Professional Football in India: A New Market for Football

The Indian Super League starts with stars like Anelka and Del Piero. Clubs like Inter Milan give money. And fans? There is also.

Opening with a lot of pyrotechnics: The Indian Super League starts on October 12th in the Salt Lake Stadium in Calcutta. Image: Imago / Zuma Press

DELHI taz | It is the 38th minute of the game Delhi Dynamos against FC Pune. A rather average kick, the around 20,000 Indian fans in Delhi have calmed down. They don't know battle cries or chants, their club has only been around for a few weeks. And now the best player so far is writhing injured in the center circle.

But suddenly it gets deafeningly loud in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium: The spectators jump from their seats, clap their hands, cheer for joy: Superstar Alessandro Del Piero has risen from the Delhi Dynamos' bench. A quick nod to the Indian fans, then he slowly trots towards the field. Del Piero is now 39 years old, has won the Italian championship eight times, the Champions League and the World Cup, and with Italy he was world champion. Now he is the savior - for the game against Pune, for the fans in Delhi, actually for all football in India.

As early as 2007, FIFA President Sepp Blatter described Indian football as a “sleeping giant”. So far, nobody has woken him up, and seven years later the giant is still in deep sleep: India is 158th in the current FIFA world rankings, behind the Maldives, Guyana and New Caledonia. The nearly 1.2 billion Indians love cricket - and then nothing for a long time.

That should now change with the help of the "Indian Super League" (ISL). The league started two weeks ago, it consists of eight clubs, all of which play against each other twice, followed by play-offs and the grand final on December 20th. To ensure attractiveness, every club has a model player under contract: players like Robert Pires (formerly Arsenal London / now FC Goa), Fredrik Ljungberg (Arsenal / Mumbai City FC), Luis García (Champions League winner 2005 with Liverpool / Atlético de Kolkata), David Trezeguet (World Champion with France 2006 / FC Pune City) or Nicolas Anelka (Mumbai). The Brazilian Zico (Goa), Marco Materazzi (Chennaiyin FC) and Peter Reid (Mumbai) have been signed as coaches. The list reads like a Who’s who of international football - the years that have passed for a while.

"Where are there soccer fields?"

In the USA, a similar undertaking failed years ago, despite stars like Franz Beckenbauer and Pelé. India's most renowned sports commentator, Novy Kapadia, also warns: "You can't just throw a glamor event over the country and think that the rest will develop on its own."

Kapadia refers to the already existing soccer league I-League. It could only establish itself in regions like Goa or Bengal. The Indians there are already crazy about football: In Goa, the Portuguese colonial rulers popularized football, in Bengal, Indian footballers defeated the British rulers in a legendary match, thus ensuring the sport's breakthrough. "The ISL is a good start, but we need long-term commitment and professional structures," says Kapadia. Above all, there is a lack of the necessary infrastructure to introduce young people to sport. “Take a look around, where are there football pitches?” Children have to be won over to the sport in schools, in clubs and in their free time.

In any case, the organizers of the ISL have learned from some mistakes in the past. In 2002 a similar project failed due to a lack of sponsors. This time the necessary capital is available. Behind the new super league are India's richest man Mukesh Ambani, the US marketing giant IMG and the Australian television mogul Rupert Murdoch. In addition, support from cricket and the Bollywood film industry has been secured: India's cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar has bought a club for a quarter of a million dollars, as has Ranbir Kapoor, Bollywood megastar and the new head of German defender Manuel Friedrich.

Cricket dominates, football is catching up

The ISL financiers paid the equivalent of 90 million euros to the Indian football association AIFF for the commercial rights until 2025, in return they received 20 million euros for a ten-year club license. The ISL market value of 160 million euros is, however, rather modest: The German Bundesliga is estimated to be worth 2.4 billion euros, the Indian cricket league IPL as much as four billion euros. Nita Ambani, chief organizer of the soccer league and wife of Mukesh Ambani, praised the future prospects of the project: "The largely untapped potential of soccer in India offers the chance of unprecedented commercial success."

Many see it similarly. Spain's champions Atlético Madrid cooperate closely with Kolkata and also serve as namesake. "We are excited about the prospect of being able to connect Atlético Madrid with one of the most populous countries in the world in this way," says owner Miguel Angel Gil. Inter Milan holds shares in the Chennai team, Mario Gomez Club Fiorentina supports FC Pune City, and Feyenoord Rotterdam is linked to the Delhi Dynamos led by Alessandro Del Piero. Other clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea FC, Barcelona FC and Arsenal held soccer camps in India.

Because the Indians are crazy about football. Although cricket dominates the local sports landscape undisputed, the players are idolized like rock stars. But loud Times of India more than 50 million Indians watched the World Cup matches in Brazil. Every weekend, matches from the English, Spanish and German leagues are broadcast live. And the ISL also got off to a good start: So far, an average of 43,000 fans have streamed into the stadiums.

Many hope that football in India will find its way back to its former size: in 1950 the national team qualified for the World Cup in Brazil, but participation was canceled. The travel costs were too high, and the Indians played barefoot, which was forbidden according to the Fifa statutes. It will certainly not fail this time.