Thank you Messi, but India need own football hero

September 6, 2011

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.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Let’s wait for one more century.

Posted by pankaj_roy | Report as abusive

Gareth Conde, well done, spot on reporting! Refreshing to see a Journalist who points out the real problems facing not only India, but other Countries that are stagnant at developing the game. It’s a top down approach instead of bottom up. Grass Roots Football is basically ignored and everyone wants to throw money at the 1%, the Professionals. This kind of game can not happen in Japan where I live and work. The JFA has strict rules prohibiting this kind of Game. Why? Because it’s not in the best interest of developing Football in Japan.

Tom Byer

Posted by tomsan106 | Report as abusive

Gareth, spot on. India’s major setback in professional football is mainly lack of grassroots training. We can say literally, there is no strategy and coordinated approach for grassroots training in India. In my view, we need to revolutionise Indian football through our sheer imagination and collective efforts. I am sure that you and me can do that…! If we wait for funding from government or Indian Football Association.. I don’t know when it will happen..!

I am a grassroots football coach in Australia and started a not-for-profit foundation to empower communities through sport, please visit our website for more information. We have launched our ‘coach the coaches’ program in India to train grassroots coaches in football and athletics. I have trained 27 communities coaches in Chennai this year and the program is flourishing fast to the other parts of India. We need to knowledge share and empower our communities from within.

Posted by JBZPhilip | Report as abusive