Lionel Messi receives wild reception on India trip

The arrival of Lionel Messi for an international friendly in India has sparked a huge media frenzy and drawn 2,000 fans to await his arrival in the eastern city of Kolkata, underlining the cricket-mad country's growing appetite for football.

Messi arrived on Wednesday morning ahead of Friday's Argentina-Venezuela friendly at the 120,000-seat Yuba Bharati stadium. Hundreds tried to pursue the footballer on motorbikes as he sped to his hotel from the airport.

Big-league Europe-based teams have turned their focus to Asia in a bid to boost revenues in recent years, with Manchester United chief among them with a planned $1 billion IPO in Singapore.

Other English Premier League (EPL) clubs have eyed India for branding, lured by the promise of one of the world's fastest growing economies and a huge youth population.

Liverpool has opened a development academy while Arsenal and Manchester United have also started soccer competitions carrying their names.

Some 60 million Indians tuned in to the English Premier League's 2009/10 season, roughly the same as Britain's entire population, according to ESPN STAR.

EPL team Blackburn Rovers, owned by the Pune-based Venkateshwara Hatcheries, is set to tour the country later this year.

Kolkata, the formal capital of British-ruled India, is the country's soccer hub.

"It had to be Kolkata. Show me an Indian city more passionate about soccer," Dharamdutt Pandey, CEO of the event management company organising the Argentina-Venuezuela game, told Reuters.

"Apart from the Messi factor, the fact that it would be Argentina's first match under new coach (Alejandro) Sabella is sure to draw global attention."

Nearly 120,000 fans gave a rousing farewell to Oliver Kahn in the German goalkeeper's 2008 Bayern Munich swansong in Kolkata and former Argentina skipper Diego Maradona virtually brought the city to a standstill during his visit the same year.

Back in 1977, the city rolled out a red carpet to Brazil great Pele who arrived with the Cosmos team to find a massive crowd waiting for him outside the airport despite a steady drizzle on a September night.

While the passion is there, the 158th-ranked India national team remains mired near the bottom of the FIFA world standings.

All India Football Federation (AIFF) vice president Subrata Dutta blames a lack of proper funding and sponsorship relative to cricket.

"This kind of short-sightedness hurts me. Nearly 100,000 turn up for a derby match (between city rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan) in Kolkata.

"But because the crowd primarily comprises the lower income group, we didn't get enough sponsors," Dutta said.

"Things will change with this match. We will be able to attract fans from middle and upper income groups and sponsors are naturally excited because they can target the consumers.

"I now want to believe that India would play in the World Cup, maybe not in the next five editions but after that and definitely before I breathe my last."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain