Ian Rush Column: ISL on the right track

There has been a dramatic change in the League over the two years. There is a strong fan base now, the organisation is definitely better and local Indian players have improved immensely. There’s a marked difference in their dedication, quality of play and off-the-field attitude.

Chennaiyin FC players celebrate a goal against Mumbai City FC at the D.Y. Patil Stadium. The League, according to the columnist, can make an impact on Indian football the way J-League revolutionised the game in Japan.   -  ISL/ SPORTZPICS

Indian players can benefit immensely from legends such as Roberto Carlos who have a wealth of experience to share.   -  ISL/ SPORTZPICS

Over the last two years I have come to India quite a few times. I shot a documentary in 2014 and that really opened my eyes to the hype and enthusiasm that surrounds the Indian Super League.

I love the culture in India and have visited many places of interest. I never stop learning when it comes to India; every trip is a completely new experience. Oh! And by the way I enjoy the food very much.

I am glad that I have had the opportunity to enjoy the people’s love for football, the carnival atmosphere and their passion for the game. All this can take football to another level.

A disclaimer here: I spotted lots of mistakes (committed by the Indian players) but because of the support network I decided to come back and work with Delhi Dynamos.

I met with Prashant Agarwal, their president, and I believe he has the right structure in place. I want to encourage the youth development setup and also take an interest in the first team.

I watched the Dynamos take on Kerala Blasters and it was quite a dramatic game (3-3 draw). For a complete neutral fan it was a fantastic advertisement for football and the ISL. Six goals in one game is entertainment for the fans and that’s what you want. However, coaches might think differently.

 

Overall, I was impressed with Dynamos’ central defender Anas Edathodika and the young Sehnaj Singh, who plays in central midfield. Robin Singh and Souvik Chakraborty are equally good and are the other standout performers for me. The organised structure of play was good to watch.

Last year, there was a huge lack of organisation among the Indian players, but they have certainly come into form this season. If you look at Delhi, there’s a great difference in their play and that definitely comes down to the coach and the experienced foreign players. They have been able to instil a lot of confidence among the Indian juniors.

Players like Roberto (Carlos), Nicolas (Anelka), (Florent) Malouda, Elano are there to pass on their experience. It is vital to the ISL that such players are there to create the style of play crucial to the league, and to bring the standard up to the level that is needed to make it a success.

If the Indian boys keep learning this way, there is no reason why they can’t move forward and make a difference even internationally. At the end of the day, everyone wants to play for their country. The focus area is about the education of football and not just fitness and popularity.

There has been a dramatic change in the League over the two years. There is a strong fan base now, and as said before, the organisation is definitely better and local Indian players have improved immensely. There’s a marked difference in their dedication, quality of play and off-the-field attitude.

All said, the ISL is still in a nascent stage and it is quite difficult to determine the standard of the League or to compare it with the established setups in Europe. I’d like to see the League develop a bit more before making any comparison. If everyone works together the ISL can impact Indian football the way J-League revolutionised the game in Japan. It doesn’t happen overnight, but is possible.

The latest visit was doubly fruitful as it was great catching up with old Liverpool star (John Arne) Riise and understanding the transition he has made in coming to India. Other foreign players should speak with him with regard to understanding the move (to India) as he has adapted quite well. I’m glad he signed for Delhi and it has been a good fit.

Riise and I also did manage to steal some time and watch the LFC game (which Liverpool lost 2-0 to Newcastle on December 6). It was a bitter-sweet experience as Delhi and Liverpool lost that evening, but Riise had a good game.

My priority has always been grassroots football and it is vitally important in the development of the ISL. It is the nucleus to any positive future. Hence, I have teamed up with Dynamos to try and make this happen and to lend my expertise in creating a bright new future for football in India.

I started something similar seven years ago with Wales and now we have qualified for a major tournament (EURO 2016) for the first time in 58 years. Things don’t happen quickly and a lot of work is needed. But at the end of the day, anything is possible once the structure is in place.

ISL has already brought better quality to Indian football, better foreign players have passed on crucial experience, which is needed to carve out a league that can have a big fan base and emulate the popularity of the English clubs. In an ideal world, the ISL should be a five-month league with more teams involved. That will make it bigger and better. There is already more quality in the ISL (compared to the I-League). So a format has to be put in place to help this merger become a reality.

I will always be an ambassador for Liverpool Football Club and Wales, but I share a great interest in the ISL and plan to be a part of it.

My advice to the Indian players is to take as much experience from the foreign stars and utilise that with what they have already learned. You gotta stay on top of your game and look for improvement each time, have respect on and off the pitch, play with passion and pride. The fans should be able to look up to you. The ISL inevitably wants to create superstars in football, so as a player you need to relate to this.

The owners have a responsibility too and need to know who to trust when taking advice from outside India. They should make sure that they are bringing in the right coaches and players to suit the style of play, and, more importantly, always keep an eye on future development.

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