Indian football has often found itself being compared unfavourably to the kind of strides cricket has managed to make in terms of development of fanbase and popularity.
Speaking at the World Football Summit (WFS) Asia 2019 held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, earlier this week, Reliance Sports CEO Sundar Raman made an attempt to dissect the core issues plaguing football in India.
"I think the challenge, from an Indian perspective, has always been about adding a pipeline for talent to come through. The support to the grassroot level has not been that great and football in this part of the world certainly needs that," he said.
"What cricket has shown over a period of time for it to become the dominant sport in a market like India is demonstrative of the potential that sports has in the market-place. But with the lack of infrastructural levels, the lack of structured coaching and (absence of) a pathway, that (potential) is sort of coming down at this point. It’s not ironic that football in India goes back to the 1880s.
"Somewhere along, we have lost that way and some other sport has taken that lead. And it’s time to get some joy from the football standpoint which should happen sooner or later."
Raman was the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket competition from 2008 to 2015 and he broke down the factors that have worked ever so well with respect to the most popular sport in the country.
"Cricket is an advertised revenue sport. Football doesn't allow for commercial interruption. What cricket has also done is that it supercedes development at a very early stage of the sport and it has always been ahead of the curve. It started to attract a younger audience far earlier. It is about showing the pathway," Raman opined.
"If I think of football today in India, what do I get to do when I grow up? Can I be a professional footballer and play for a team? Those economic challenges and lifestyle challenges are the big questions. They (cricket) developed at the grassroot level, marketed it well and showed that you can play the sport that you love and still make a living out of it," he continued.
Coming to the more celebrated football leagues of the world, Raman also explained that foreign clubs have realised the need to alter their perception of the Indian market from just viewership to active contribution in terms of developing talent.
"Between the Premier League, LaLiga and Bundesliga and everybody else (other major leagues) with respect to India, they are starting to focus on what they can get out of the market. You have to give something to the market to get (something) out. You can't come to clean the market out; those days are gone, whether at the league level or the club level," he quipped.
"These (foreign) clubs have realised that they have to contribute something to the marketplace. Football has started to move in that direction. We all look forward to that one Indian - if they see the next Mohamed Salah coming from India who goes to play for a big club, football will come after India.
"It is not that their (big clubs') job is to develop football in a new country - their job is to unearth the next talent. Nobody is expecting a 16-year-old to go and play in the Premier League, but with the opportunities that are given, who stands to gain? At least in the forseeable future, Asian markets are not going to catchup with the top flight leagues in terms of quality of play or the affordability of those players."