As the country basks in the glory of Indian football team’s success at the U-20 COTIF Cup in Valencia, Mahendra Singh Dhoni — one of India’s most successful cricket captains — credits the Indian Super League for inspiring young footballers across age-groups.
“All the leagues are raising the standard of sport in our country and slowly you will get the desired result. It is not just about the people who are playing the ISL, but it also encourages the 16-year-old, 17-year-old players to follow and play the sport,” Dhoni, who is a co-owner of the ISL franchise, Chennaiyin FC, said here on Tuesday.
“ISL started a few years ago and it gave the Indian players a chance to rub shoulders against some of the best players in the world. Some of them were not at their peak when they came here, but it gave the Indians a benchmark as to where they need to be. It pushed them to set the benchmark slightly high. The first edition of ISL was different and in second season, teams improved,” Dhoni said.
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He also made it clear that it is important for the youngsters to go out and play the game. “There are youngsters who know football inside out. When I asked some of them when do they play football, they say that they play the FIFA game on Playstation. You want them to go out and play,” he said.
The erstwhile India captain also pointed out that it is important to develop a sporting culture in the country. “To grow a sporting culture, you need time. Often people get confused, but the (reality is), sports is not related to money. It is not about ‘okay, I pump in 500 crores, next Olympics how many medals are we getting? You don’t get it like that. You have infrastructure, you have to provide the right time to the individuals who are playing the sport and then have to wait for it. It’s a long-term investment,” Dhoni said.
“We need to develop our sporting infrastructure in a way where they are used in a proper way. When the National Games happen, the facilities are improved in the centres. But what do we do with it once the games are over? So, (the aim should be) how well we use the infrastructure,” he said.
That’s experience talking.