The AIFF president Praful Patel on Wednesday pointed out that the success of the Indian Super League (ISL) will not undermine the older inter-club competition, the I-League. In fact, he pointed out that the two leagues can easily co-exsist and even feed off each other. “Certain ISL clubs have already shown interest in playing the I-League…the signs are evident. Maybe in a couple of years, you will find ISL teams playing in the I-League,” he said. He, however, did not specify which ISL owners had approached him.
Agreeing with Patel, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke stressed that India needs to develop the game at the grass-roots level. “India, with a population of 1.2 billion has huge potential. ISL, along with the I-League can help make football the second biggest sport in the country. However, what is important is that whenever you do something at the top, you should not forget the grassroots programmes,” the FIFA secretary general said at a press meet in New Delhi.
A host of veterans such as Alessandro Del Piero, Marco Materazzi, and David Trezeguet have signed up to play in the ISL, but Valcke reckons developing infrastructure will see India being more competitive at a global leve.
“Youngsters are dreaming about their stars and ISL is a way to attract more youngsters. We must make sure that we’re all together with one goal to develop football in India and help India play in the World Cup sooner,” the 54-year-old said. Valcke is in India to chalk out the blueprint for the upcoming U-17 World Cup, which India is hosting.
“FIFA has given India the responsibility of hosting the Under-17 World Cup in three years, which is a huge milestone and would also help in the long run, particularly in terms of its infrastructure,” Valcke said, adding that if India succeeds in successfully hosting the U-17 World Cup, there is no reason why India should not be ready to host bigger FIFA events in the future.
The Frenchman exuded confidence on the progress made by India in the build-up to the marquee event in three years.
“The U-17 World Cup is the starting point. I hope that after the event, we can extend the partnership with the AIFF to kickstart a new era in Indian football,” he added. Apart from the U-17 World Cup, India has also bid for the 2018 Club World Cup football and the U-20 World Cup. “We will bid for U-20 World Cup for which a blue print has been chalked out. Apart from that, we will also bid for 2017-18 Club World Cup,” Patel added.