The stakeholders of Indian football should figure out ways to bring out more grassroots competitions in order to strengthen the foundation of the sport in the country, feels Jose Antonio Cachaza, the managing director of the Spanish top league, La Liga, in India.

“As we find with many other sports, India faces some shortcomings in football. One of them is the lack of venues or football pitches, and even more critical is the lack of grassroots competitions. For that, you need hundreds of thousands of boys and girls playing football, even knowing that 99 per cent of them won’t be graduating to the senior or professional level,” said Antonio Cachaza during an interaction with the media to announce the completion of five years of La Liga’s local presence in India.

“What we are doing is not going to bring about a turning point, but it is a contribution to the development of Indian football. There are a lot of other clubs like Barcelona and Manchester United, among others, who are doing the same. But it is India which needs to develop its own football,” the La Liga MD for Indian operations said, insisting on the growth and success of the La Liga Football Schools.

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The La Liga recorded a “2000 per cent increase” in its social media audience (from 3.9 followers in 2013-14 to 149 million followers in 2021-22), while its grassroots programme has so far impacted over 20,000 youth in the country.

Talking about the growth of football in India, Antonio Cachaza expressed confidence in the way ISL is taking football in the right direction. “Indian football is growing in the right direction, but it is a process that consumes time, and we cannot become impatient about looking for immediate results. The fact that two of the biggest clubs of India, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, are a part of the ISL increases the excitement and creates the foundation for growth,” he said.

He also suggested that the ISL should consider allowing the return of fans in the stadium to ensure that the clubs don’t lose their fan base. “The ISL is suffering a bit as they had to play two seasons in a bio-bubble whereas, in Europe, the sport has returned to a kind of normalcy. If the fans are not allowed in the stadium, it can adversely impact the growth as most ISL clubs are still building their fan base. But we have to look at the positive side, which is that the ISL is taking Indian football in the right direction,” Antonio Cachaza said. “There is enough passion for football in the country and the people who are trying to develop the sport in the country are showing the right enthusiasm. There is a business part to it that is inescapable. But the people trying to develop the sport are also showing the right emotions that can transform the scenario,” he added.

Antonio Cachaza felt that the reforms should also happen in the National team. “The national team is also improving, and now it is in the rebuilding process. It happened with Spain too. It is time to find new faces and new heroes because your best player, Sunil Chhetri, is 37-years-old. The challenges are there and there's a lot of work to be done but if we count the positives the improvement is there all over,” he said.