Thank you Messi, but India need own football hero
By Gareth Conde
Now that the hysteria and hype generated by Lionel Messi’s appearance in Kolkata has died down, the big question is: what has it done for football in India?
Organisers argued how it would boost Indian football but the cynical view is that it was just a marketing exercise and the T-shirt sellers at Kolkata’s BC Roy market were the main beneficiary of the Argentina-Venezuela friendly.
Whereas the 120,000 capacity Salt Lake stadium has been filled in the past for Mohun Bagan and East Bengal games, 90,000 turned out on Friday. It may be a large turnout elsewhere but for a match in Kolkata involving an Argentina team skippered by the current FIFA world player of the year Messi, it was pretty disappointing.
The reason for those empty seats was ticket pricing. With the majority priced between 1,000 and 5,120 Indian rupees, many lower income fans were effectively ‘priced out’.
If the real motivation of the match was to promote India and further the game, pricing needed to be more in tune with the disposable income of the average Kolkatan.
It made a great spectacle but the best way to promote the game in India is to improve it at the grass-root level.
The only way to do this is to invest in better coaches and facilities and not flying in superstars to play in what essentially is a glorified training session.
The truth is that Friday’s event did nothing for Indian football. By not engaging the local community and making tickets prohibitively expensive they are more likely to turn people off.
The challenge now is not to bask in the glory of having bought Messi here, but finding Indian talent and giving them the facilities and coaching to progress.
So that, some day, those traders at BC Roy market sell India shirts with a local hero’s name and number.