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ISL – Pros and Cons for Indian Football
The launch of the high-profile Indian Super League is aimed at generating interest and passion in a game where India currently languishes at 158th position internationally. Enthusiasts believe that it is the start of a new dawn in football and will help loosen cricket’s grip on the sporting public.
The star-studded glitzy launch the ISL had on October 12 in Kolkata’s Salt Lake stadium has at the very least intrigued an average Indian football fan who hitherto use to get his share of kick and fun from the late-night editions of English and Spanish premier leagues.
The marquee event, however, has its share of critics (mind you they are fans of the game and sincerely want to see it grow) voicing their concerns regarding the ISL’s impact on Indian football in the long-term. Of particular concern is the ISL’s impact on building infrastructure at the grassroots and finding and nurturing local talent.
The positives coming out of the ISL and which do give us hope are significant; in fact, football administrators are aiming for an Indian team qualifying for the 2026-27 edition of the FIFA World Cup, which in itself is a huge turnaround in aspirations. So far, the ISL has done everything right.
Financially, it has got the backing of India’s largest corporate house Reliance Industries. It has been reported that MukeshAmbani is taking personal interest in the development of football. The world’s fourth richest person showing not only interest but taking the lead in creating a business model for the game’s development is unprecedented in India.
With media baron Rupert Murdoch’s Star India on-board, it is safe to assume that the ISL will have no shortcomings on increasing its viewership outreach and ad revenue. The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, SouravGanguly and Mahendra Singh Dhoni along with a host of Bollywood starts as the team owners means there will be no lack of media and public attention. The city-based franchise model imitating the IPL not linked to the I-League starts afresh.
On the ground, Indian players training and rubbing shoulders with illustrious coaches and players like Zico, delPiero, David James, Robert, Pires, Nikolas Anelka will be a huge learning experience. An economically viable format with renewed viewer interest can open a new supply line for Indian football.
Despite positives, concerns in relation to the ISL’s impact on the long-term future of Indian football need to be discussed. The ISL model will swallow its modest, cash-strapped cousin I-League due to its financial superiority, brand management, and star power. If the idea was to revive Indian football, why not take I-League along or co-opt it?
While the hoopla about positives emanating out of the ISL is one thing, actual improvement in training facilities and world-class football grounds is an altogether different ballgame. Revamping of stadiums and training facilities will require corporate style ownership. But four years after the IMG and Reliance signed the Rs 700-crore deal with the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the existing structure in football clubs and state federations remains the same.
The bigger worry is that the ISL may turn out to be a recycling center for discards from the European football leagues. True, these players were greats and served their nation well, but how much these ‘off-the-shelf’ players can contribute to the rise of Indian football. Franchises could have invested the huge amount they have spent on these players on creating training and infrastructure facilities for youth. A corporate sponsorship for a talented Indian player to train and play abroad could do lot more for Indian football.
Blindly aping the IPL format is also fraught with risks. The IPL is anything but cricket. Seven editions of the IPL and India is yet to find another Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid. Money and glamour cannot become substitute for hard work and patience. Building national teams requires not just quality football players. They also need to learn to gel well and play together. English football team is a case in point. While it has all big names in the world of soccer, as a national team they hardly are an inspiring side.
- Fresh idea to revolutionize Indian football
- Sound finances and backing of corporate houses, advertisements, promising viewership model
- Football greats from abroad to play with local Indian players; huge learning experience from international level coaches
- Potential investment in training facilities and stadiums
- No turnaround in grassroots facilities
- Poor imitation of the IPL model
- Recycling of foreign ‘off-the-shelf’ players
- Adverse impact on I-League club format
- Old administrative structures persist