‘Back to Square One’ – Is the Indian Football In An Endless Loop?

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The state of Indian football has been on a concerning downhill in recent years. The recent performance (both on the field and outside it) has certainly raised questions about the future of the sport in the country.

India, once hailed as a promising and passionate football nation has been struggling to make a mark on the global stage. Despite the nation’s passion for the sport, there is a prevalent feeling that Indian football is in a state of decline. India’s position in the global football stage has also been consistently deteriorating which has left fans deeply disheartened. 

This decline is reflected in various aspects of the sport whether it’s in the national team’s performance on the international stage to the overall condition of the game within the country.

The national team, often called the “Blue Tigers” has failed to compete with the best teams globally, consistently ranking low in FIFA rankings while failing to qualify for major tournaments like the FIFA World Cup.

We will delve deeper into the various aspects of Indian football’s decline.

No title sponsor for ISL

It is worth noting that the domestic football scene in India encounters various challenges. The country’s top-tier league, the Indian Super League (ISL), which has often faced criticism from the fans took a massive blow last year. Hero MotoCorp, serving as the title sponsor from 2014 to 2022-23 decided to pull out of sponsorship for Indian football after the contract expired. The ISL website now only lists Nivia as an official partner.

Protest for salary in ISL

Hyderabad FC, the 2021–22 Indian Super League champions, is a well-known team in the league today, but they have had financial difficulties in recent years. When several of the staff members and employees held up a sign that read “salary please” during Saturday’s match against FC Goa at the GMC Balayogi Athletic Stadium, their owners and players were left looking shocked.

The Hyderabad FC staff’s banner, demanding the employees’ unpaid salary, drew attention. They had requested to be paid immediately after voicing their worries over not being paid during the game.

Poor Performance in Asian Cup

India’s underwhelming performance on the global football stage has been one of the most glaring signs of the decline. India has struggled to make a mark in international competitions, reflecting the decline in the overall quality of Indian football.

At 102, India were ranked the lowest in Group A alongside, Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria in their Asian Cup 2023 campaign. India’s long-awaited AFC Asian Cup 2023 campaign saw a lackluster affair.  The Blue Tigers were unsuccessful in earning a single point from the group stages and also did not score any goal in the campaign. This marked probably their worst performance in the tournament.

India, with nine players having prior Asian Cup experience, were mostly outmatched in duels, while lacking accuracy in passing and shooting.

India’s upcoming duty is the 2026 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers round two fixtures against Afghanistan. Stimac and company are set to play them twice as the matches take place on March 21 and 26, 2024.

Kalyan Chaubey – Baichung Bhutia Political Tension

Indian football saw political tension rising recently, Former goalkeeper and BJP politician from West Bengal Kalyan Chaubey had bagged the president title for the All India Football Federation (AIFF) after defeating Indian football legend Baichung Bhutia, for 33-1.

Bhutia has been involved in politics and had unsuccessfully contested Lok Sabha and state assembly elections on a TMC ticket in 2014 and 2016 respectively and founded the Hamro Sikkim Party in his home state.

Bhutia had even accused that the AIFF elections should have been fought without any “political interference” and purely on football terms.

“I was shocked because I personally did not expect that the political interference (in AIFF elections) would be of such a high level. I thought it’s a football president election and I wanted to contribute with sincerity,” Bhutia told PTI.

Necessary steps need to be taken to reverse this decline. Otherwise, the state of Indian football is at the peril of further deterioration.

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