Most of us heard the star-studded names of some of football’s greats having headed to India at some point during 2014. Alessandro Nesta, Marco Materazzi, Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Nicolas Anelka, Elano, David Trezeguet, the list goes on.
Less of us, though, may be aware that the Indian Super League has since overtaken Italy’s Serie A, as the fourth most watched league in the world.
Many were quick to dismiss the league as merely some washed-up former greats heading for one last pay-day. After all, the idea of European players heading to distant shores for the dying embers of their careers is hardly new. Few may have expected the game to take off so quickly in the way it has then.
In its inaugural season, the league averaged attendances of 26,505, higher than that of major European leagues Serie A and Ligue 1 and higher than any other non-European league.
Further still, Kerala Blasters and Atletico de Kolkota, both averaged crowds over 45,000, attendances which situated them second and third respectively in terms of non-European football teams, only narrowly behind the legendary River Plate of Argentina.
Is this a football revolution in India then, or a fleeting interest from locals just after a glimpse of the hype? Well football has long played second or even third string to cricket in the great nation of India.
Visitors to the country will know that children play cricket on street corners in the same way football is played in most quarters of the world and whilst top European leagues like the Premier League do have a large audience in India, it is nowhere near that of neighbours China.
However, it is believed over 1.5 million people attended 61 games in the first ever Indian Super League season, which concluded last month with Atletico de Kolkata claiming the first title.
That number of people becoming involved in the sport can only be good for the game and there are suggestions in India that the game’s increased popularity is more than just a ‘fad’.
In the MLS, Americans are finally feeling the benefits of their football (or soccer) project, with a number of sides achieving crowds upwards of 20,000.
The Seattle Sounders are the particular success story in America, averaging attendances of 43,734 and 44,038 in the last two seasons and locals passionately embracing European ‘fan culture’.
Whilst the US cause has been strengthened by very respectable display’s in recent World Cup’s, India appear to be some way off achieving such feats on the international stage.
Struggling against the likes of Nepal and Afghanistan recently, India show little signs of improvement in that department, with a lowly FIFA Ranking currently of 171st in the world, their lowest yet.
One thing is for sure though, if India continues to embrace their domestic league and youngsters take an active interest in the game, as we’ve seen in the US, the situation can only improve, and with a population of 1.25 billion, the country could one day become a genuine force within football.