India goalkeeper Subrata Pal, 25, has 45 caps to his name, while 22-year-old forward Robin Singh, a rising star of Indian football, recently helped his country win the Nehru Cup in one of his first international outings.
Both men play in the top tier of Indian football, and have represented several different clubs in the division. In a joint interview, the pair gave FIFA.com their views on the I-League, the Indian national team and the future of football in the country.
FIFA.com: Do you think the recent Nehru Cup success will help Indian football grow in popularity?
Subrata Pal (SP): For sure. The stadiums were almost full, even in Delhi for the final. Masses of Indian people watched the games on TV, which is obviously positive for Indian football and the league can benefit from that popularity.
Robin Singh (RS): I don’t know. But in one of my first games for the national team, we lifted the Nehru Cup after winning the final against Cameroon, who are much higher in the FIFA rankings than us. What more could you ask for? That said, I hope this is just the start.
How do you explain the popularity problems faced by the I-League?
SP: We play in the daytime, usually around 15-16h, because there are no pitches with sufficient floodlighting to play at night. Also, not all matches are televised – just a few games involving the clubs from Goa and Kolkata are shown. If we can change that, I’m sure the stadiums will start filling up.
RS: Yes, the time of day that we play our matches makes a big difference. In mid-afternoon, temperatures in India can be as high as 45C. It’s not good for us and the standard of play, it’s not good for the fans in the stadium and it’s not a peak time for TV viewing. Just by changing that, I believe the league would grow in popularity and quality.
In your opinion, how can things be improved?
SP: I went to Germany recently. Over there, everything is world-class: the pitches, facilities, training grounds, stadiums – it’s very impressive. I hope that one day, in India, we’ll be able to have the same set-up. That’s how India will one day qualify for a World Cup.
RS: Gaining experience in Europe, or elsewhere in the world, is not an end in itself. It’s certainly useful, but I believe the Indian league can become much more attractive and gain more media exposure if the infrastructures improve. And it’s Indian football as a whole that will benefit.
SP: In the past, there were no real football academies in the country, the pitches were not up to scratch and there was no floodlighting. Things are now changing, slowly but surely. I hope that, in five or six years' time, Indian football will have improved in terms of its infrastructure, and that the standard and popularity will increase.
If India is chosen to host the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017, do you think that might also help?
SP: Hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup would be a real gift for our country. It would allow us to develop our infrastructures, have international teams here and, if the Indian team were to do well, I’m sure it would boost interest in football. I really do hope we’ll be chosen to host it.
RS: It would be a great springboard for Indian football, without a doubt. Firstly, it would help our country be recognised throughout the football world as capable of hosting such an event. Secondly, it would provide the significant media exposure that we need. And it would also allow Indian youngsters to take their place on the world stage.