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The SAFF Cup winning squad

The identity crisis suffered by the Indian Women’s National Team is surprising as well as stupefying. While the country was indulged in the brouhaha of Indian Super League, apparently termed as the ‘birth of a footballing nation’, the women’s team went on to lift the SAFF Women’s Championship, held in Pakistan which was India’s third in four years. Beating Nepal in the final with a scoreline that read 6-0, it was evidence of the pedigree and mettle of the women’s team, which undoubtedly is the country’s best bet in qualifying for the coveted World Cup.

The gallant and perhaps heroic efforts of these hardworking women, who fight all possible dogmas, reel against all possible ‘poor’ playing conditions and fight the dearth of match practice, are both noteworthy and praiseworthy. When juxtaposed against the publicity they receive, the picture panned out is not monotonous – which should be considering the ‘glories’ these bunch of ladies have delivered – but bewildering. Hence, there was no ‘surprise’ when few outlets published a 8X10 paragraph of ‘success in Pakistan’.

Assessing keys along the same note and India’s legendary football player, Bembem Devi, might just have featured in the last competition of her professional life. For people, alien to the name synonymous with Indian Women’s football, Bembem, is a female version of AS Roma ace Danielle de Rossi. Coverage received? Almost Zero.

Ironically, a country which is ranked 53rd in the FIFA World Rankings, does not only lack in a proper nine-month league, but also in arranging proper accessories to promote the beautiful game. Surprising enough?

To change this scenic view of identity crisis and lead women’s football out of shadows (in terms of publicity and lack of a proper league), the AIFF, has developed a new strategy, analogous to the recently concluded Indian Super League.

“We are planning to start a franchise-based women’s football league in mid-2015 with the help of FIFA,” said AIFF’s general secretary Kushal DasAi??on the sidelines of FIFA’s Women’s Football Regional Development seminar and India Development workshop, held in New Delhi.

While this statement, might be an issue of guarantee of a better and organized women’s footballing structure in India – something which the country has lacked – it has certainly brought a wide smile on the faces of thousands of women footballers in India.

“Of course, I am happy. It would be a most welcomed news”, said one of India’s future superstars, Swati Rawat. Rawat, who plays as a central defender for the National Team, believes that a Women’s Indian Super League is most certainly the way to proceed.

The women’s Indian Super League, similar to the men’s, would Ai??feature teams owned by franchisees and will perhaps follow a draft system, from which a pool of players will be selected.Ai??The tournament, is expected to be a short three month long regime. The highly anticipated tournament is set to commence in mid 2015 and would be the first of it’s kind in India.

The Women’s Indian Super League, if it commences, would be the best thing to Indian women’s football since sliced bread.

The tournament, first and foremost would provide a platform to showcase Indian talent. Moreover, it will also serve as a whetting stone, to sharpen it. The abundance of talent which the country has when it comes to women’s football, would ultimately receive a huge upward surge. Lack of match practice and fitness, which has long plagued women’s football and claimed casualties like the recent campaign in Asian Games, in which the country displayed abysmal performances often being over shadowed by superior, more match fit opponent, will certainly loosen it’s grip.

Another key highlight of this tournament will certainly be the familiarity of regular national team player with formations and their working. One of many reasons for the National team’s inability Ai??to cope with foreign teams and conditions except South-east Asia, can easily be attributed to the lack of familiarity with formations. Indian Eves, have often been left lagging in this department, whilst being clinical in others.

The team was surprisingly given the 4-2-3-1, 45 days before their Asian Games campaign, and was expected to transit from the traditional 4-4-2, to the former. Against South Korea, India’s inefficiency to match blow for blow was exposed to it’s fullest as the Eves were hammered by a ten goals. The formation played against South Korea, 5-3-2. A team habitual to 4-4-2, was atrociously expected to mundane itself with the 4-2-3-1 in 45 days and then forced to play in a 5-3-2. However, these varied formations are very much a part of any team’s parcel and this inertia could possibly be broken with the arrival of WISL, with foreign coaches involved.

The Indian Super League accommodates 5 Indians and 6 Foreigners, in a starting lineup. For the women’s game to progress, it will perhaps be favorable to conceive a starting lineup consisting of 7 Indians and 4 Foreigners. Given the amount of talent present inside the country, when it comes to women’s football, this could be easily pulled off.

Another key integral in an attempt to uplift WISL could be the emergence of Bollywood actresses as co-owners. The recent trend followed by actors and cricketers, could certainly up the ante of WISL and influence massive commercialization, similar to the ISL.

“I would love to be in a franchisee owned by Katrina Kaif” says Swati, who has already fantasized and perhaps even dreamed about this project.

“Kangana Ranaut and Kalki, for me” asserts Tanvie Hans, who plays for Tottenham Hotspur.

This branding of the league through style icons preferably Bollywood actresses, would certainly help the tournament in it’s public outreach. In a country, obsessed with Bollywood, this approach could reap profits, even commercially.

The WISL will certainly rocket women’s football to the national level and according to Tanvie Hans, it is perhaps time that the governing body provides, what it has promised.

“Seeing the momentum of things currently, as far as football in India is concerned, I think the authorities are going to have to produce and not just talk. More people are watching football now and more people are aware of women’s football in India. The national team itself has a growing following. I think if they don’t deliver now, they will have to soon, because they will ultimately face pressure from the growing support” she asserts.

When inquired about the change in mentality, which the WISL could bring, Swati Rawat was quick to stamp her point of view.

“Of course it will bring a dynamic change in women’s football. It will not only encourage girls taking part in football but also their parents who sometimes avoid football as a sport for their girls.” said Swati, in an excited manner.

Predicting the success of WISL at this point seems naive yet tempting conclusion to draw. However, with the silver lining it boasts, women’s football in India could very well be on it’s way to uncharted success, with WISL as it’s pioneer.

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