– 82% of Indians following FIFA U-17 World Cup believe game is bigger than the team and will continue watching the tournament
– 47% of fans believe a lack of infrastructure is a major hurdle in the success of football in India
– 26% of fans believe it is due to the lack of recognition for the sport
– Sunil Chhetri emerged as an icon to youth, while Bhaichung Bhutia named the all-time favourite amongst the older age groups
– Among international players, Lionel Messi is the most popular among Indians followed by Cristiano Ronaldo

In the run-up to the finale of India’s very first FIFA U-17 World Cup, ESPN today unveiled findings of the 3rd edition of FANtastic Survey. ESPN’s survey of over 1000 Indian football fans, both native and newly attracted, across the country, before the start of the tournament, to discover the opinions of football fans about their favorite international and Indian football players, teams, as well as gauging their spirit for the game and other key topics.
While most Indians were keen to watch the U-17 Indian team play for the first time, they have definite favorites in the India National Football team. Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chettri emerged most popular of the Indian footballers, with 87% fans voting them as their all-time favorites. Sunil Chettri has emerged as the icon to young fans, with more than half of the fans below 25 years old voting him as their favorite. The other side of the age spectrum, above 35 years old, chose Bhaichung Bhutia, legendary Indian football skipper, as their favorite football legend.
According to the survey, the biggest factors that have played a role limiting the on-pitch success of Indian football are a lack of infrastructure, with 50% of respondents in the age group of 18-45 years naming it as the main factor. However, 46% of respondents below the age of 18 believe a lack of recognition is at the core of India’s failure to launch. Other factors that were recognized were lack of funding and lack of talent by 20% and 8% respectively.
When Indian fans were asked if they would abandon watching U-17 World Cup if the Indian team was knocked out of the tournament, they displayed a spirit for the game more broadly, with 83% of the fans firmly saying that ‘The game is bigger than the team’.
Ramesh Kumar, Vice President, Head of ESPN India and South Asia said, “This FIFA U-17 World Cup has been a tipping point for Indian football with the tournament witnessing great support from India’s large and vibrant community of sports fans. The FANtastic survey results reflect the confidence Indian fans continue to build in Indian football and footballers. While the Indian team has won the hearts of its fans, the game itself will also continue to develop, we at ESPN are passionate about bringing the joy of football to our fan community with high-quality, fun and exciting coverage of the game around the game.”
Fandom of football in India, is one of the strongest after cricket. Loyalists of international leagues and star athletes are leading the growth of the game’s viewership in India. Among respondents of the FANtastic Survey, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have emerged as the most popular players. Interestingly, the views displayed among them drastically differed as 53% of Indians below 18 years of age believe in Lionel Messi, while 43% of Indians above 45 years of age believe Cristiano Ronaldo will emerge as the top scorer this football season.
Amongst all the respondents, 48% believe Jose Mourinho of Manchester United is the most successful Manager. However, the youth, below 18 years strongly feels Pep Guardiola is equally competitive. A big 37% of Indian fans wants their favorite club, Real Madrid, to win the Champions League 17-18, while 32% believe in Barcelona FC.
The survey revealed that, more than 4/5th of the football fans take pride in supporting their preferred club/country and will continue doing so in any situation.