A bright start

ATLETICO DE KOLKATA'S FIKRU TEFERA LEMESSA scores the first goal of the ISL.-S. PATRONOBISH

The essential change the ISL seemed to have brought about with its first offering was introducing the Indian players and spectators to a quality of the game not seen before in the domestic circuit. By Amitabha Das Sharma.

A cannonade of fireworks leaped into the sky creating a collage of colourful sparkles that lit up the darkness above the giant Salt Lake Stadium. A sequence of laser lights formed delectable patterns inside the arena as performers decked in a rainbow of colours responded to the lively beats orchestrated by the country’s most celebrated percussionist Sivamani. Bollywood diva Priyanka Chopra contributed the glamour element with a cameo performance, while offering her lilting voice to the new promotional jingle — “Let’s Football.”

The inauguration of the Indian Super League in Kolkata brought hope to the thousands of football aficionados, who had thronged the venue, wishing to see a makeover from the usual scenes of gloom associated with Indian football. The awe and jubilation among the fans indicated that the colourful launch of the franchise-based tournament offered them a break from the tedium of the staid inter-club tournament in the country — the I-League. It now remains to be seen whether the ISL is able to live up to this early promise and help lift Indian football out of the ennui created by decades of neglect and apathy.

“This is a dream come true. It’s a great opportunity for us to take this game to every corner of the country,” said Praful Patel, the president of the All India Football Federation. “Special thanks to Nita Ambani and IMG-Reliance. I assure everyone that we will not leave any stone unturned to make this ISL a super success.”

On field, Atletico de Kolkata served a recipe of Spanish delight, winning the first match of the new tournament much to the joy of a capacity home crowd. Known for its passion for football Kolkata relished the international flavour offered by the likes of Luis Garcia and Borja Fernandes, who helped Atletico Kolkata blank visitor Mumbai FC 3-0. The two Spaniards, who were the most expensive imports in the roster of the Kolkata franchise, showed glimpses of the Spanish tiki-taka.

“I never imagined we would get so much support. At times, I felt as if we were at Bernabeu (Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, the home of UEFA Champions League winner Real Madrid), although that is a bit more noisier as the galleries there are closer to the ground,” said the former Real Madrid midfielder Borja, who picked up the first man-of-the-match award.

Antonio Habas, Atletico Kolkata’s Spanish coach, said: “I am very happy with the performance. Everyone played fantastic football. The crowd support was also excellent.”

The essential change the ISL seemed to have brought about with its first offering was introducing the Indian players and spectators to a quality of the game not seen before in the domestic circuit. It will be long way before the ISL can claim to bring a notable transformation in the standards of the Indian players. Till then it will remain a platform of development, offering Indian football a window to peep into the wide world of professional excellence.