The Forgotten Indian Football League

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Mohun Bagan supporters celebrate their teams 2015 I - League title
Mohun Bagan supporters celebrate their teams 2015 I – League title

After all the hype and hoopla surrounding the Indian Super League (ISL) and the euphoria over national team’s triumph in the SAFF Suzuki Cup, it’s time for the I-League to regale football fans in the country.

However, to expect the I-League to match the standards of the UEFA Europa league or the English Premier League would be simply foolhardy. The I-League is supposed to be country’s premier football competition but for the last few years it has been losing its sheen due to the apathy of the administration. In such a scenario, it is difficult to expect anyone to break into the national squad by playing in the league.

It seems that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is only concerned about making money through the ISL as it has failed to develop any grassroots projects to help find local talent in football. How do you expect the “sleeping giants” (India) of football to awaken with such a callous approach?

Brazilian legend Zico, who managed FC Goa in the last two seasons of the ISL, feels it (ISL) is hardly beneficial for Indian football. He said that except for a few almost all the key players are foreigners. “With all due respect to the ISL, I can’t see it bringing any benefit to Indian football. It is zero,” said Zico. “A couple of midfielders and wing backs are Indian, rest of the team members are foreigners which does not help Indian football. When the ISL gets over, they go to the I-League where the infrastructure is not the same.”

The lack of infrastructure has been plaguing Indian football for decades and yet, there has been no efforts to find a solution to the problem. The withdrawal of clubs such as Mahindra United, JCT, and more recently Pune FC, Bharat FC and Royal Wahingdoh from the I-League amplify the governing body’s failure to develop adequate infrastructure for the game to prosper. “If they want the development of Indian football, the rules have to be the same as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). It was this way that Japan, Uzbekistan and Qatar football has grown,” Zico said.

Last season of I-League was one of the most memorable in recent times, throwing up an unlikely third-placed finish for Royal Wahngdoh and relegation for record winners Dempo SC. In a dramatic finale, Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan clinched a leveler in the dying minutes against Bengaluru FC to win their first league title since 2001. Crowds in most of the matches were humongous. Even in away games of the Kolkata giants especially in places such as Pune, Mumbai, Goa and Bangalore, the attendance was over 30,000.