Ian Rush: Indian football in the right direction

I have seen such an enormous improvement in the level of football since year one of ISL and in my opinion the only way from here is forward. The grassroots development, which we are putting in place, will hopefully help in creating future home-grown talent, the next Indian football — or perhaps a world — star.

A midfield tussle during Kerala Blasters semifinal second leg against Delhi Dynamos at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on December 14. The columnist is impressed with the level of football in the ISL.   -  AFP

Football has always been my life and it is wonderful to be still associated with the game long after my playing days. I have been the league performance director with Wales for eight years now and it means so much to me. I have always been very patriotic and nothing can be more fruitful than serving the national setup.

I’ve always given my 100 percent when dealing with up-and-coming players, trying to give them the best possible chance to succeed.

 

Wales are now very much on the world stage of football and were a huge success at the EURO 2016 tournament. It was a proud moment for all of us. But this upturn in fortunes, of course, did not happen overnight. We have a great grassroots programme in place and we were lucky enough to reap the benefits by producing players such as Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, who have majorly contributed to our success.

It’s a great feeling to see this happen after spending many dog hours on the training field, nurturing the talent. Dragon Park (Wales’ training ground) had been given a major development boost three years ago and our current facilities are fantastic. However, our success lies with the background staff and coaches, who have a great structure in place and which, hopefully, will continue to produce the same quality of Welsh players that have emerged in recent years.

After ending my playing career, I was lucky enough to open several soccer schools across the globe. The first came up in Australia, who are doing reasonably well in the international arena currently. My aim was to teach or pass on what I had experienced as a kid at Liverpool, along with a few of my own ideas that I developed over the years. It’s highly important to teach young players the skills needed off the pitch as well as on the pitch.

A little later, I also signed back with Liverpool to be one of the club’s ambassadors. It is an honour to still remain at the club in any capacity, but to be an ambassador and experience the love for LFC globally is a phenomenal work opportunity.

As a brand it is one of the biggest in the world. You really have to see it to gauge the enormity of the success it brings across the world. It is really touching and rewarding to see what the Liverpool FC Foundation is doing in regards to academy work, especially in developing or under privileged areas. Those kids are ultimately given the opportunity to learn the Liverpool way and that is really special to anyone, but particularly to those who can’t afford coaching or who will never get the chance to be in the UK or Anfield.

In India, Delhi is a particularly special place for me. I have been to India many times with Liverpool Foundation and there is a huge support for the English Premier League here.

Cricket is still your No. 1 supported sport, but the three years of the Indian Super League have already left a mark in India’s sporting cycle.

I was here for the initial setup and although there were many teething problems, the organisers were adamant to continue and develop and create a following to rival any sport and eventually create as much hype as they have for football teams across Europe. Along the way I met Prashant Agarwal of Delhi Dynamos and I saw the passion and enthusiasm he had for the game. I admired his ideas on bringing Indian football to the next level and we immediately, without hesitation, started working together. He has since become not just a colleague but a brother and a friend.

I have seen such an enormous improvement in the level of football since year one of ISL and in my opinion the only way from here is forward. The grassroots development, which we are putting in place, will hopefully help in creating future home-grown talent, the next Indian football — or perhaps a world — star. That is the ultimate goal.