Focus on Localization to lay strong football foundations for the future

Kids in action at Mumbai City FC's 5th Grassroots Festival at Cooperage Stadium

Compared to the massive popularity and success of Indian cricket, football still has a long way to go before it can reach a similar level in sporting terms. Nevertheless, progress is constantly being made throughout the subcontinent, as one of the most populous countries in the world aims to become a hotbed for future talents.

Still, those who lead and manage football at all levels must be open to innovative ideas, willing to embrace new concepts, and be able to adapt quickly as the sport evolves. There also needs to be greater investment, if India is to fully realize the huge potential to become a football powerhouse, firstly throughout the Asian continent and then on the world stage.

Football is widely considered to be a global game, although to achieve success in any given country, there also needs to be a strong focus on localization and country-specific needs at every level, if the sport is to continue growing in popularity. This is an approach often taken by other commercial entertainment sectors, including the online gaming and gambling industry.

Recently rebranded, Pure Win India is much more than just a catchy name, identifying the country where this online casino is focusing its efforts. This brand has fully localized gaming products and services for an Indian audience compared to other international operators. This includes banking options in Rupees and language options available in English, Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, and Telugu.

What this reflects is that for any activity, whether sporting or other entertainment options, localization is paramount for the success of any enterprise. The same applies with football, given that whilst attracting increasingly higher profile overseas players is always welcome, the emphasis and focus on developing Indian talents must never be overlooked.

The future strength and success of the Indian Super League are reliant on solid foundations, provided by grassroots football. This can range from providing quality coaching to get more people involved, to increased opportunities for older amateur players, who may have slipped through the nets cast by scouting networks.

Now there are more active and competitive leagues throughout India, grassroots football is gradually providing a constant stream of talent for the higher echelons of the game. With a continued focus on supporting and maintaining such a vital foundation, it shouldn’t be too long before the country begins exporting star players abroad. That in turn would have the effect of raising the profile of football in India.

Interestingly, of all the players to represent the national team in recent years, none have represented club teams outside India at the same time. Although, some have had opportunities to prove themselves overseas in the past. Star striker Sunil Chhetri had brief spells in other countries, first with Kansas City Wizards of the MLS in America, then with Sporting CP in Portugal, although neither were successful.

Despite having 42 caps for India, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has only played abroad with Norwegian club Stabæk. However, he made just 3 first team appearances between 2014 and 2017, before returning home to join Bengaluru. If the highest-profile Indian players can’t get better chances to play overseas, this indicates that while progress is being made, football standards in India still need to be raised significantly.

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