How ISL can bridge the gap with its European counterparts

ISL has brought about a change to Football in India
ISL has brought about a change to Football in India
Anubhav bajpeyee

ISL started in 2014. With its inception, Indian football which was lying into the wilderness of darkness came into limelight. India's national FIFA ranking has skyrocketed to 97 from the wrong side of 150.

The fan following has increased at an exponential rate. Fan groups like the Manjappada (Kerala Blasters FC) and the West Block Blues (Bengaluru FC) are a testament to this fact.

However, Indian Football clubs are still poles apart from their European Counterparts. Gradual progress can decrease this distance to great lengths.

Though, the steps required for this progress are the ones which are hard to follow. Let us take a look at three steps which if taken strategically, can change the face of Indian football.

Investment in Youth

In 2017, North East United FC (NEUFC) launched their Youth Academy in collaboration with Shillong United.

With, this they became the second club in ISL to have an academy of their own. No matter how optimistic you are, this cannot be seen in a positive light. The fact that six clubs have not realised the importance of a Youth Academy is a sad fact to acknowledge.

NEUFC residential youth academy
NEUFC residential youth academy

AFC's criteria require clubs to have a minimum of three age-group squads below the main team, with at least two of them being Under-15 and Under-18.

In case of Violation of these terms, a club cannot take part in any AFC tournament or the ones which are recognised by them.

Also if we take a look at the history of any Football Club in the World, the foundation of each team is set upon its youth.

'The Class of 92' of Manchester United is a prime example. Most of the professional clubs in Europe spot players at a very young age.

Whereas in a country like India where talent is in abundance, it is often not spotted.

For ISL to go in the right direction the clubs must tie up with schools all over India, set up academies, spot the talent and then nurture them in the right direction.

This would be a huge step towards the development of football in India and towards the growth of these clubs. It might also prevent players such as Yan Dhandha from leaving the country.

Yan Dhandha is the first player of Indian Heritage to play for Liverpool
Yan Dhandha is the first player of Indian Heritage to play for Liverpool

Transfer Policies

ISL has seen many players with cult status such as Del Piero, Diego Forlan, Berbatov play for various clubs.

At first, it may seem like a nice strategy to pull some crowd to stadiums. Though, one thing which might prove this idea as a bad one is the staggering amount of wages these players demand.

The most appalling thing has been the performances of these players. None of them could make a long-lasting impact for their clubs and struggle with either injuries or loss in form.

These yesteryear stars take ISL as a vacation trip. Moreover, these players cost their clubs a significant amount of money.

A more beneficial approach for the clubs would be to buy players who might not be the A-listers for their clubs or country but could contribute a year or two to ISL.

A player such as Darren Fletcher who maybe past his prime, but is good enough to hold a commanding position at any of the ISL clubs can be targeted.

Even better would be the approach to sign players from youth academies from European top-tier club who are not good enough to start in their team but would be an amazing fit for ISL.

ISL would benefit a great deal with such signings instead of signing yesteryear stars who have either retired or are just looking at lower leagues to earn the last ounce of money they can from their playing career.

Indian Stars should be encouraged to play in foreign leagues:

When Brazil won the World Cup in 2002, most of its player were practising their trade on foreign soils. Same was the case of the title-winning side of France in 2016.

Other than Kylian Mbappe, none of the regular starters were playing in France. In football, for growing a league it is equally advisable to strengthen your presence in foreign leagues.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was the first Indian to play in Europa League
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was the first Indian to play in Europa League

Whereas in the case of India, a sleeping giant as it is known, none of the players are practising their trade in any of the foreign leagues.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the only player who was playing in European leagues came back to India to play in ISL. Such moves may prove beneficial for the popularity of ISL but in hindsight will prove suicidal for the league and the country.

For growth for ISL and India as a footballing giant, Indian players should be encouraged to play on foreign soil.

They should be loaned out to clubs during the off-season.

The players will gain a lot of experience by playing in the other leagues and will benefit their respective team and the league as a whole.

South American leagues might not seem very attractive at first but, these leagues often work as a recruitment source of many larger leagues.

Edited by Alan John


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