Margao: All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel is delighted with the response the ongoing Indian Super League has got so far and said the tournament has brought lot of enthusiasm to the beautiful game in the country.
"It's been a few weeks into the ISL and it's an ambitious and enlightened endeavour on behalf of the AIFF to bring football to the masses and enhance its popularity and bring more responses to the game," said Patel, who was was here to unveil FC Goa's magazine.
"There is a lot of interest in Indian football because of the ISL, because of the international players and coaches. In Goa you have seen how Zico and (Robert) Pires have brought in a lot of interest and enthusiasm from fans. The teams have been putting in a lot effort into the matches."
Insisting that I-League continues to be the main tournament in India, Patel said: "As you know we have the I-league which is the principal league in the country. We have been working over the years to upgrade and professionalise the league, bring it on par with other leagues and boost the popularity of football in the country.
"After a lot of deliberation we thought that a shorter format of the game coupled with entertainment and glamour would be a boost for the game and eventually help in raising the popularity of football in the long run. It took two years for us to convince FIFA about this. It's a great opportunity for us to host a tournament such as the ISL. This is the reason why the entire global footballing community is looking at ISL closely. My only request to viewers is to be patient.
It's a new experiment and we need to ensure that Indian football grows," the AIFF chief said. "But let's not lose focus from the I-League. Like I've said before, it's the backbone of Indian football. Only teams that participate in the I-League will be able to move up the ladder in terms of AFC Championships and so on. ISL teams do not have that chance. But the I-league needs to be strengthened," Patel said.
Patel also said that in order to take Indian football forward, the AIFF is planning to bid for more and more FIFA tournaments.
"We have got the World Cup under-17 in 2017 which is the first FIFA tournament to come to India. We are also bidding for the Club World Championships in 2017 and 2018. If we win the bid, only the I-League clubs can play as the Indian entry. We will also get the World Cup under-20 in the next five years," he said.
Patel also welcomed FC Goa coach Zico's suggestion that more Indian footballers should be in the playing eleven in the ISL.
"The suggestion is good. But I must tell you that I-League allows 4 players on field. We must look at the I-League as our product, not the ISL. We are focused on the growth of Indian football and that's why we appreciate the efforts of the ISL and club owners who are doing so much to popularise football," he signed off.