Tendulkar: India can impact world football

Sachin Tendulkar
© Getty Images

While he may not be the biggest name in football, when it comes to the world of sport as a whole only a handful, at best, are up there with Sachin Tendulkar – often called 'the God of cricket'.

Arguably the most recognisable face in India, Tendulkar retired from the sport in 2013 after representing his nation in his 200th test, with 'the Little Master' since turning his hand to the world of football – owning a stake in Indian Super League side Kerala Blasters.

Having reached the final of the ISL in its debut season and boasting average crowds of above 50,000 since it began life in October 2014, the club proves that there is a real appetite for football in India, with the FIFA U-17 World Cup heading there in 2017.

With all of that in mind, Tendulkar took time out to chat with on his love of the beautiful game and how cricket culture in India compares to their footballing counterparts in England. When did your appreciation of football first develop?
Sachin Tendulkar*: Right from my childhood. I've played football as a kid and have enjoyed doing so even when playing for India, as warm-up sessions tend to be volleyball or football. It's a lot of fun and one of those sports in the world that you can't stay away from. It was more for my personal enjoyment, rather than following a particular team – when it was shown on television I would always appreciate it though.

*You have spent some time living in and touring in England. Were you able to attend any matches?
Yes, I did. I attended a Manchester United match and obviously Sir Bobby Charlton was there, so we watched the game together. It was a fantastic experience. I really enjoyed the atmosphere there. The fan engagement and how they respond to every little thing that they do is incredible. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and it was a memorable one. Just to be Manchester United's guest was special.

Do you feel football culture in England rivals that of cricket culture in India?
Very much, it reminds me of the people back home. Extremely passionate and every little thing that we do matters; every little thing is monitored; every little thing has hundreds of people passing judgement. Everything is under a microscope.

With India's billion-plus population, if it grows it's definitely going to have a positive impact on football all over the world.

Are the huge crowds in ISL games a sign that football is finally catching up with cricket?
Football is getting popular – it's nowhere near cricket, but I don't like comparisons. It's about appreciating each and every sport – the skills, the hard work and the sacrifices the players make. Each individual should be respected for that and Indian people are appreciating ISL in a big way. I'm thrilled that their response has been special and people are following not only the foreign players but the domestic players too. They are becoming heroes, role models and overall that is how football in India is going to grow. With India's billion-plus population, if it grows it's definitely going to have a positive impact on football all over the world.

In two years' time the FIFA U-17 World Cup will come to India. How exciting is it to have such a prestigious competition coming to your country?
Absolutely massive. Everyone is looking forward to it, everyone is excited and the guys are waiting to welcome the World Cup to India. It's going to be massive, it's good for India because people are appreciating ISL and FIFA coming to India is a big, big thing.

Why did you decide to get involved with the ISL?
I feel India is embracing other sports in a big away and this was a great opportunity to be involved with football and contribute in whatever possible manner in Kerala and then promote football there. The response has been phenomenal – we've had huge average crowds – so it's been fabulous.

*Your team Kerala Blasters reached the ISL Final last season. What were your emotions after the match? Disappointment or pride?
I was extremely happy. We didn't start the last season well, both [coach] David James and I took some time and were pretty confident that slowly, slowly things would start to get better – and they did actually. The team stuck together, they played quality football and won the hearts of people. You can't always go out and win each and every game, but you can go out and win hearts. That's what we were able to do last season. Yes, the players were disappointed after they lost in the final, so I spoke to them after in the dressing room and told them how proud I was. I felt the way we played we should have won the championship, but sometimes these things don't go the way you want. Sometimes the script is something else.

What sporting expertise from your own career have you tried to bring to the team?
I told the players, 'Don't worry about the result, play fearless football. Don't worry about the result all the time because that doesn't help. The process is something you need to focus on and not the result. I want you to go out and express yourself and then play the brand of football that Kerala Blasters should be known for and if we manage to do that then we will manage to win hearts across India'. That is something that matters to me – the brand of football. Yes, you might go out and lose some games, but that happens to every sportsman. It's the brand of football we play that matters.

India is a huge country but while talented cricketers seem to get spotted and have their talent nurtured, young footballers. In terms of the structure of the game in the country, don't seem to have the same pathway to progress. What can football learn from cricket in India?
I think the infrastructure of how football is run in India is going to become critical. How the season is played also becomes very important – you want to try to make your domestic season as competitive as possible and then find the best talent who are part of the ISL. With the exposure of having rubbed shoulders with some of the top footballers from all parts of the world, the Indian team will eventually benefit as well. I have no doubts that the change is going to happen and happen for the better.

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