India will be able to compete against Asia's football elite in the next five to six years, John Abraham, Bollywood actor and co-owner of ISL franchise NorthEast United FC, said Wednesday.
"Currently, India is ranked 158 in the FIFA world rankings, and it will be some time before we see this ranking make an upward move. The success of the Indian Super League (ISL) is important for the growth of football in the country," John told journalists in the state capital of Meghalaya here.
"We are hopeful that India will give a good fight in football to Asian countries in the next five to six years."
"We need more time. We need to begin somewhere and the success of ISL is important for the growth of football in the country. If this (ISL) does not work, then I don't know what will work," said the actor-producer.
John, however, acknowledged that ISL was still in its nascent stage with the sole emphasis at generating an interest in football and identifying the hidden talent in this region.
Moreover, he said the participation of Bollywood stars, cricketers and business people in managing the football clubs of the ISL and the presence of renowned international players from across the world in various ISL teams would take football in the country on an ascendant path.
All India Football Federation (AIFF) vice-president Larsing Ming Sawyan, who was present on the occasion, was candid in admitting that development of football in India was growing at a very slow pace.
"The ISL has just started and our aim is to look at a meaningful programme to develop football as the number one sport in India," Sawyan, who is also the co-owner of the NorthEast United FC, said.
John, who is here to drum up support for his football club, stressed the need to support the youngest side in the entire championship.
"Shillong is the birthplace and germination site of this magnificent team (NEUFC), and on behalf of NEUFC, I simply had to be here to show my gratitude for the support that we have received so far," the former model said while at the same time highlighting that NEUFC was a melting pot of talent with just the right element of vigour from youngsters and seasoned players.
He also highlighted the unique character of the side by mentioning that the NEUFC was the only region-based team unlike others which were city-specific.
"We have a fan base from eight states which is our major strength and, of course, the direct involvement of an I-League side, Shillong Lajong FC," the Bollywood star said.
Moreover, Sawyan, the owner of Shillong Lajong FC, said that Shillong Lajong FC was established at the grassroots level and could provide the much needed support to the new franchise.
On the future plans of the NEUFC, John said: "We have a long term vision and should be allowed to make mistakes in the initial stages. In the first year, I can only say that we hope to win. With time, I can say we will surely win."
On being questioned about the prospects of having home matches in Shillong, John highlighted that Guwahati was the homebase currently owing to the ease of connectivity -- logistically speaking.
"We are discussing the prospects of getting two-three matches to Shillong by Season 2 and one each in Imphal and Aizawl," Abraham said while at the same time stressing that investment in floodlit matches is high and this would take some time.
John silenced critics who regarded the whole ISL following the lines of IPL when he said: "I am using the platform of being an actor to simply facilitate its promotion. The limelight will slowly shift focus to the talent we see in the field."
However, John and Sawyan were of the opinion that a game so pure should stress on the domestic heroes rather than the glitz of celebrities.
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