Will the ISL wake up the ‘sleeping giants’?

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The AIFF through corporate bidding, managed to include Bengaluru FC (owned by Jindal Steel Works) and the Pune-based Bharat FC (owned by the Kalyani Group) in the I-League. They were promised no relegation for the first three years of their existence as a sop for their participation. However, the advent of the ISL has come as a big blow to these clubs and there are talks that Pune FC and Bharat FC would withdraw their teams completely, citing lack of support from the AIFF. In a way, the isl and the I-League, which are being operated separately, have left clubs and franchises of the I-League and the ISL in a state of limbo.

These are early days for the ISL and hope is that these issues get sorted out soon. Coming back to the current edition of the ISL, if it can go a notch higher from the previous one, then the league can be a real game changer in Indian football. The ISL can definitely take Indian football to new heights in the near future. “For that we need a miracle,” says Kapadia. “Now the ISL is simply a drop of water in the ocean. India does not have a massive football following apart from a few states in India, so if the ISL can attract people from those parts of India where football is not played very often then it can be a huge success.”

The attraction of the ISL is the marquee foreign recruits. However, it is mostly bringing those players who have retired or are on the verge of retirement. The aim of the league should be to bring in those players who can attract more crowds to the stadium. Ideally, it should try to bring in those players, who still have at least five years left in them. When asked about bringing younger foreign players, Kapadia says that it is impossible for such players to come and play a two-and-half-month tournament with a tight schedule. All other leagues around the world are year-long tournaments where players have enough time in between matches to take rest. “Continuous matches will affect the players physically and mentally and make them prone to injury,” he says.

The ISL was formed to develop world-class infrastructure for Indian football and improve the level of game at grassroot level through corporate investment. For that, all the clubs are supposed to have their own academies. It is a multi-layered strategic initiative aimed at developing the skills and talent of young boys and girls in India. Under this programme, events and camps for young players are organised in order to help them get proper training.

Despite not being a cricket tournament, last year’s ISL was fairly successful. In Kolkata, Goa, Kochi, Mumbai and the Northeast, all the games pulled in humongous crowd. There were initially doubts about the success of the tournament. However, as the tournament progressed, the excitement and the frenzy scaled new heights.

Last year, foreign players overshadowed Indian players. Players such as Sandesh Jhingan and Ishfaq Ahmed of Kerala Blasters FC, Reheneesh TP of Northeast United FC, Mohammed Rafique of Atletico de Kolkata and Jeje Lalpekhlua of Chennayin FC were some of the Indian players who made their presence felt.

Luis Garcia, Borja Fernandez, Elano Blumer, Iain Hume, Fikru Teferra and Andre Santos were the foreign players who put up a good show in the first season. Italians Marco Materazzi and Alessandro Del Piero and Frenchman Nicolas Anelka, however, failed to meet their fans’ and teams’ expectations.

The ISL is just a good beginning as far as Indian football is concerned. However, with better grassroot level programmes and infrastructure, Indian football can go places and make the prediction of Sepp Blatter true. Let us hope the ISL 2015, scheduled from 3 October to 20 December, betters its previous edition.

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