The main problem with football in India is the lack of a robust league structure, according to AIFF general secretary Kushal Das.

The league system for men consists of three divisions - the Indian Super League, the I-league and the I-League second division. Female football players compete in the Indian Women’s League.

Placed 106th in FIFA rankings, the men’s national team is aiming to qualify for its second successive AFC Asian Cup finals and is clubbed with Afghanistan (150), Cambodia (171) Hong Kong (147) in Group D for the qualifiers in June.

“... It’s such a popular sport, easy to play, still India is far from where it should be and that’s a very valid question. I think the main issue with football in India is the league structure,” Kushal said at the launch of ‘International Sports Expo’ here.

‘Twenty years behind’

India kicked off the I-league in 2007 while countries like Japan and South Korea started much earlier. Kushal admitted that India was late on that front, too. “Now, way back in the 1970s, India used to beat Japan, in the ’60s India beat South Korea to win the Asian Cup, but after that we lost. The reason is very simple: Japan started the league, their national league in the 1980s, and South Korea at the same time. India actually started a national league in 2007, which is the I-league, so we are 20 years behind.

ALSO READ - ATK Mohun Bagan coach Ferrando wants his team to be careful against Blue Star

“There is no other option but to play continuously under a good coach for six to eight months in a year and play a certain minimum number of matches in a proper league structure, that is home and away, when you are playing for six-eight months, that is the structure which is missing,” he explained.

He also said that the duration of the Indian Super League needs to be increased. The ISL is now the country’s top league, with the I-League pushed down in the hierarchy.

“We are trying to put that structure in place, which is happening (sic). We have now the ISL; of course the duration of ISL needs to be increased. Hopefully going forward next year, we would have a structure where football will be played for six-eight months and at all levels. Not just the senior level, it has to be at the U13, U15, U18 boys and girls, and that is what we need to establish, hopefully it will happen,” Kushal signed off.