Jo Paul Ancheri: Hero ISL has empowered Indian players to take on bigger challenges

Former India midfielder Jo Paul Ancheri reckons the Hero Indian Super League's (Hero ISL) advent has been a driving force behind the current Indian national team putting on some memorable displays against strong opponents in the recent past, including the  historic draw against reigning AFC Asian Cup champions Qatar in Doha earlier this month.

According to Ancheri, who was an integral part of the Indian team for over a decade during his playing days, the steep rise in the performance levels of the national team players against strong opponents like Oman, Qatar, China, etc can be attributed to the players playing alongside and against quality foreign players in the Hero ISL.

"Earlier, you had a few quality foreign players. But with Hero ISL, a lot of big foreign names started coming and a momentum was created. Why do you think the Indian team is playing good football? It is because good players are coming here and the competition is tough and the Indians are also improving as they look to compete with the best," the Indian footballing icon opined in a latest interview with a media agency.

"That contest in the Hero ISL prepares the Indian players to face any other country. According to me, that is why we did so well against Qatar," he further explained.

Blasters and Gokulam have put Kerala back on the map: Ancheri

Considered as one of the best talents to come out of the football-crazy state of Kerala, Ancheri also admired the role of Hero ISL club Kerala Blasters FC and Hero I-League side Gokulam Kerala FC in the resurgence of the beautiful game in his home state. Two-time Hero ISL finalists Kerala Blasters, founded in 2014, have become the cradle for nourishing young talents in Kerala and reigning Durand Cup champions Gokulam followed suit in 2017.

Sharing his thoughts on the teams’ contributions in boosting Kerala football, Ancheri said, "Gokulam and Kerala Blasters have once again put Kerala in the football map of India. Both Gokulam and Kerala Blasters have started giving local boys the required opportunity. I think there are at least seven local boys in Kerala Blasters and around 9 to 10 local players in Gokulam. So, this way the local boys are getting an opportunity to show their calibre."

Speaking on the challenges facing Kerala football, Ancheri added, "See, the main problem is, there aren't too many tournaments and the local leagues are not that competitive. The players are not getting match exposure. There is a serious dearth of proper grounds also."

"However, despite all the odds, currently we have three players - Sahal Abdul Samad (Kerala Blasters FC), Ashique Kuruniyan (Bengaluru FC) and Anas Edathodika (ATK) - in the national team and that is a good sign," the 44-year-old concluded on a positive note.

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