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The cupboard is bare, but things can change…

An innocuous query from a Cologne official to the Indian journalists, who visited Germany at the invitation of Bundesliga recently, put the visitors in a quandary.

Can you name one young Indian player who can be nurtured and developed into a top player?

There was a stony silence in the Indian camp. The Cologne official had obvious reasons to recruit an Indian player — given the size of the Indian market — but he was bewildered by the no-response.

Knowing full well that an Indian can bring huge commercial value to the team, the Germans are keen to get a foothold in the Indian market.

A number of clubs in Europe have entered the Asian market to strengthen their revenue streams, build their brands and overcome the problems faced by their saturated markets.

The reason for Dortmund bringing back Shinji Kagawa was also about economics — don’t lose the lucrative and ever-expanding Asian market.

This, at a time, when the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is struggling to sell its own product, the I-League, in the country.

The National team has also not made any big strides in the last decade to boost the cause of the league.

When Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert was asked whether the federation could lend a helping hand to make India a football powerhouse, he said: “we cannot come to India and change things overnight. It has to come from within, the government. The AIFF has to take the initiative of building grassroots and youth development programmes.

“We can do exchange programmes if one is really willing to work towards improving Indian football,” he added.

The CEO also said the top teams in Germany were trying to nurture football’s soul.

“The clubs understand their fans. As a result, everybody wants to go to games… men, women, people of all age groups and all sections of society. The clubs limit the number of season tickets they dole out in order to give more people the opportunity to experience games live.

“The new Indian Super League has brought fans to the stadium which is a good thing,” Seifert added.

The average attendance for the ISL’s inaugural season was 24,357, lower only than the Bundesliga, Premier League and La Liga. In terms of fans’ patronage, the Indian Super League is the fourth biggest in the world.

The multitude of fans ISL managed to attract in its inaugural season has forced the AIFF to start working towards merging ISL and the I-League.

The merger will bring in more cities and the I-League owners may get a franchise if things work out.

The ISL will only get bigger as the franchises have rooted for young foreign players for the ensuing season.

The young Indians, too, can learn a trick or two from the foreign recruits and in a few years’ time, the country’s talent pool could grow.

The Indian journalists will then not be stumped for an answer the next time they are quizzed about the exciting talents in their country.

(S. Sudarsan was in Germany recently at the invitation of Bundesliga & STAR Sports)

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