Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who prefers processes than results, is seeking a football revolution starting with the Indian Super League. The eight-team IPL-styled tournament starts on Sunday and the Indian cricket captain, who joined the soccer bandwagon by buying stakes on ISL team Chennaiyn FC, said he could not have lost out on an opportunity to kick off a new soccer journey in India.
"I used to be a goalkeeper in school and always enjoy playing and watching the game. I wanted to be associated with football so when the opportunity came to be a part of Chennaiyin FC I was ecstatic as this gives me a chance to connect with the city of Chennai again. I have played franchise cricket for this city so I know how supportive they are."
Dhoni added, "I am sure all the players of Chennaiyin FC will see how much love Chennai gives to their players. The Indian Super League is a fantastic platform for football to grow with so many big names associated with it. I look forward to an exciting season ahead but at the same time it's important that we develop the grassroots level and produce more football stars in India." (Also Read: Dhoni Adds Glamour Touch to ISL But Will India Football Score Goals?)
Chennaiyin FC start their ISL campaign with an away game against FC Goa on October 15 while their first home fixture is against Kerala Blasters on October 21. The Kerala team is co-owned by retired cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. Goa has Virat Kohli while Atletico Kolkata has Sourav Ganguly as co-owners.
How much ISL will bring about a revolution is Indian football is anybody's guess, but Dhoni is extremely upbeat. India are 158 in the FIFA rankings and not even remotely an Asian powerhouse. Unlike IPL, where several cricketers like Kohli and Dhoni are among the top players in ICC rankings, Indian football has failed to wake up from being called a "sleeping giant" for years now. Dhoni is usually a pragmatic man, but football surely makes him dream.
"When IPL started seven years ago nobody thought it would become such a big event.. It happened only because people supported it. Many important people have been involved in the [football] league, the media is very excited about it and it's time for the common people to come forward and extend their support. I appeal to all football lovers to come to the stadium and watch the matches because for a player nothing is more satisfying than playing in front of a full house," Dhoni said.
Dhoni himself came up from the ranks. Having played his cricket in Ranchi, he knows the importance of developing age-group sport. Football has struggled to replicate cricket's model but Dhoni believes Chennaiyin FC can make a contribution in development of the sport rather than on winning trophies.
"It's important to develop the available talent. We are still trying to improve our football standards and I think a team can't make it big unless it has proper development at the grassroots level. We are fortunate to have some intentionally established players in the team and I'm sure our local players will benefit a lot by playing alongside them," Dhoni said.