“There is no fun in watching Indian Super League,” said Karthik Bhushan, a soccer enthusiast in India. Bhushan like thousands of Indian youth is an avid soccer follower, who never misses a match of any European football league, wears a Liverpool T-shirt with pride and will defend calling soccer as football rather aggressively. But in a country where cricket is a religion and football is limited to watching European leagues, does an effort such as the Indian Super League (ISL) have a shot?
Launched in October this year with a vision to get Indian soccer team a global recognition, Indian Super League is also committed to improve infrastructure for the game at grassroots level. Backed by influential corporate houses like International Management Group, Reliance and Rupert Murdoch’s Star India, the league has eight franchises at present and aims to establish soccer as a mainstream sport. Sounds like a noble idea but let’s analyze the advantages and disadvantages of this domestic soccer league first.
International exposure for domestic players
Even though the league is being played in India, it is exceptionally international in its groundwork. With experienced international coaches like Antonio Lopez Habas (Spain) and Harm van Veldhoven (Netherlands) among others, coaching the teams, Indian players will be learning a lot. Moreover, playing besides international players should improve their game as well. Plus, with English Premier League assisting ISL in stadium management, fan development, marketing and brand management, the domestic league is for sure garnering a global spotlight.
Increased media attention
With involvement of international figures in the league, comes a global media attention. This will work in favor of domestic players by improving their hiring prospects. The idea of soccer fanatics in India cheering an Indian player playing in a European club, does not seem that far-fetched now.
With game season lasting only two months and fewer matches than the premier Indian League, ISL is more appealing to domestic and international players. Since, most of the marquee and other international players are not exactly in their heydays of fitness, this 61 match league is more favorable to them.
Unlike cricket, lack of funding has always been an issue for other sports in country. Since, ISL has a huge corporate patronage it is a lucrative venture for domestic players. Top domestic players like Subrata Pal, Syed Rahim and Gouramangi Singh are earning about C$150,000 from their franchises. This amount is significantly higher than what the top international players are getting for playing in the league. Highest paid international players in the league, Gregory Arnolin and Bernard Mendy (both are from France) struck a deal of C$ 80,000 with FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC respectively.
Corporate patronage is like a fairy godmother who sets everything right. Apart from providing funds for salaries, sports kits and marketing, it also pumps in money for development of infrastructure. According to a DNA India report, renovation of the eight stadiums to host the league will cost IMG-Reliance about INR 20 Crore. Refurbishment work includes installation of new floodlights, drainage system, improving the turf and dressing rooms. This is a good news for the All India Football Federation who will be responsible for organizing the 2017 under-17 soccer world cup in the country. This will be the first time that a soccer event of such a global importance will be held in India.
Not the premier soccer league in India
According to a NDTV report, FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke made in clear in October that, “Indian League is the only league in India. You cannot have two leagues in a country. We will not call ISL a league, though it’s a good platform for budding talent.”
Not all top Indian players participating
Some I-League soccer clubs like Bengaluru FC and Churchill Brothers are resisting participation of their players in the two-month competition. This headlock between I-League and ISL is hindering some top soccer players in the country from playing great soccer.
“Not as interesting as EPL”
Going back to the opening comment by Bhushan, ISL is certainly not as entertaining or fast-paced as EPL or other European Leagues. “I just watched two or three matches, after that I lost interest in it,”Bhushan added. He said although ISL is a good initiative but it might not get popular with soccer fans who are used to watching professional international leagues.
Though ISL is working hard to get India become a “global football power and qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup,” it will be a difficult path to help the 159th ranked (FIFA) team break into the top 32 teams who play the world cup. Another hurdle that lies ahead for the league is converting the thousands die-hard European league fanatics like Bhushan into followers of domestic soccer league. Will the league dribble its way to glory or fade into shadow of I-league and politics, is a question that can only be answered by time.
by Sableen Minhas