New Delhi:It's the inauguration of the I League, a new avtaar of the decade-old, semi-professional National Football League. The idea is to turn around the abysmal state of Indian football.
''No country can go to the highest order of the game if they don't have a professional league. This has been a success story in South Korea and Japan. We are confined in the amateur arena. We went semi-pro in 1996, but this is an indication of the future,'' said Priyaranjan Dasmunshi
But the future of Indian football has to look beyond its existing clubs and existing players. The future lies in sleepy villages of Goa, like Benaulim, where football is like its fish curry. It is a way of life.
NDTV visited upcoming boy wonder, Brendon Fernandez, whose goal-scoring spree for his school, club, state and country at the junior level, has got him a chance to travel to Manchester United Soccer School next year.
He is a product of one of the rare, talent spotting initiatives launched by the Salgaocar Club, one of Goa's biggest football clubs. Brendon is already being talked about as an India senior hopeful.
And in a nation of cricket gods, his proud father, a known stage artist, carefully watches over his son's big leap on football's international stage.
But the professionalism that Mr Dasmunshi talks about has to reach out to players like Brendon.
It is in these patches of green, surrounded by palm trees that the future of Indian football perhaps lies. The giant leap from these village fields to the international sporting arena must begin right here and right now.
In places like Benaulim, passion still outscores professionalism.
But the club has no ground or other basic facilities, just a coach with a big heart.
''There are many clubs but there are no coaching programmes,'' said Cajetan Fernandez, Junior Coach, Salgaocar Club.
Almost all facilities are borrowed, the largesse of government sports bodies or even schools. The Don Bosco School ground in Panjim is where Sporting Clube de Goa, among India's top five clubs, practices.
And games have to be over before the lunch break, so that the schoolboys can play.
''Need own grounds, own gyms. Unless these things come, we won't be professional,'' said Robert Fernandez, Former India player, Coach, Vasco Sports Club.
Will the I league, change all that with its promise of better marketing, sponsors, stars and more prize money? Or is it just the same old game, in a new jersey, the promise throttled by the politics?