Since the last few years, Indian football has overseen some rocky waters and some glorious moments as well. The rocky waters being the still-unanswered question of the unified league (which is in the pipeline) because of legacy clubs and new clubs being at loggerheads; and the glorious ones being India winning the bid for the FIFA U17 World Cup, surging up the rankings to a six-year high of 135 and Bengaluru FC making history by reaching the AFC Cup final.
But 2017 is when it will all come together - the next 12 months will shape Indian football like no other year in the modern history of the sport in the country. The U17 World Cup comes at a time when the sport is remarkably popular - leagues from all over the world beaming right into the living rooms and mobile phones of fans who are looking for something other than cricket - the only team sport India seem to be winning at an international level. And with the U17 World Cup, comes the rare chance to drive a young country towards football: to inspire, to build infrastructure and to dream of making a career in the beautiful game.
While there are many things to look forward to, India hosting it's first FIFA event and the proposed planning of a unified league (currently there are two leagues in India: the I-League and the Indian Super League or the ISL) is going to make or break football. But according to India captain Sunil Chhetri - there's no breaking - 2017, for him, is just about making the sport better.
"I don't think it's make or break. I think it's just make. We have a great opportunity, with the U17 World Cup and so much more happening. It's not about break - it's about building from here. The AIFF are trying hard to get everyone together and I hope they can do it. We all want one unified league where there are more teams and its more panned out across more months. I hope it happens soon," Chhetri told ScoopWhoop after the launch event of the I-League's 10th season.
AIFF officials maintained that their proposed plan was still in the works - the biggest challenge being getting everyone on the same page. And while there is consensus over how difficult it will be to bring I-League and ISL clubs under one umbrella, there is also a certain impatience in seeing Indian football finally get what it deserves - one league, one calendar, one season.
"The most important thing is to keep progressing, to keep improving. I don't want 2016 or 2017 to be a one-off. We need to get better every year. This is as a nation, in terms of the I-League, the ISL, Bengaluru FC, everything. If all of us, who are dependent on each other: like the media, the officials, the players, the government, the leagues - have the same aim, we will reach higher in no time," Chhetri said.
The India skipper is also pleased with the progress the U17 team is making - they're currently in Brazil for an exposure trip before they pack their bags for Russia.
"I don't want to lecture the team - I've met with them - I just want to go and have a ball with them. They are already getting what we didn't when we were 17 and I hope they get much more in every aspect," Chhetri said.
The I-League kicks off on January 7th.