IPL style league!
How frequently do we read about a new IPL style league that will attract massive sponsorship and potentially ruin our I-League? Read on if you are interested in hearing my grand unifying theory that will bring together Indian football past, present and future.
India has been invaded many times, but invaders often find themselves absorbed and infected by the intensity of the subcontinent. The latest invaders are not here to promote tax salt or a foreign religion, but they come smiling, led by Sepp Blatter. FIFA are attempting to impose on India, a footballing model for success that was invented by the English 150 years ago and dropped by FIFA itself for its show-piece tournament, the World Cup.
I am talking about a league structure! EPL fans love it and this year, it managed to bring an unbelievably exciting end to the season. Fans tried to watch 2 matches similtaneously only to find out that Manchester City had won the league after some wonderful twists and turns. Unfortunately, it is rarely this exciting with the title normally resolved before the last game, which is why the World Cup abandoned this format a long time ago.
Anybody creating a successful, exciting sports tournament knows you need a final. The Champions league final, the IPL final. Neither of these prestigious tournaments would consider a league structure so why are we following this outdated format for Indian football?
There is clearly appetite for a new IPL style league and there are parts of the country that want to host football tournaments e.g the resurgence of the EK Nayyanar trophy in Kerala. There has been talk of the Rovers Cup making a comeback too, so I think the AIFF should embrace all of these.
In some respects the I-League has been a failure, fans have voted with their feet and stayed away from matches. Many regions are currently unrepresented and it has failed to capture the imagination of fans, as average attendance remains low even in Kolkata where big crowds only really come out for the big derbies and one club is almost ignored. The strengths of the I-League are that it is a continuous tournament which is helpful for the development of the players, so a continuous season must be a feature of the new structure.
Indian fans and media have never accepted the “marathon” nature of the league and are more often concerned with the outcome of a single match, and not the implications of it within a league. Fans want their team to be winners and count their success in cups, not in points.
I am proposing a complicated system that would enable lots of clubs to compete for the trophy, and it includes an IPL style element and the continuity of the I-League.
The season begins with a 2 month window for regional leagues, before beginning nationally with a cup similar to the English FA Cup. That will be exciting, because any small team can enter the early rounds giving them the dream of playing the final against a top team. Kolkata will then host the IFA Shield, before the first half of the I-League which has 10 rounds. Attention will now switch to Mumbai for the revamped Rovers Cup, before the Federation Cup decides who will win a spot in the AFC cup. Back to the I-League for phase 2, which will determine the final league places. The top 4 I-League teams gain entry to the prestigious IPL style tournament against 4 franchise teams with ageing, crowd pullers from Europe and South America. This small number of franchises makes corporates take their entry very seriously, and could make them consider just entering the I-League instead. The I-League will become fiercely competitive, as all clubs will want to make the top 4 like in the EPL. To keep it competitive at the top, the top side in the regular season will gain the ACL spot.
I-League clubs that finish outside the top 4 will then be free to redeem themselves to fans and sponsors by winning smaller tournaments like the EK Nayannar Trophy and Durand Cup without the big teams around.
21 teams take part in the proposed I-League which means 7 additional teams that will bring back teams from Punjab, Kerala and hopefully a team from Chennai, Manipur and 3 others. Teams will only play each other once, but with an even number of home and away games in total.
Additional rules could be brought in to encourage development e.g in I-League phase 1, all teams must start with three U-19 players and no foreigners. Or a foreigner tax could be brought in where a club must pay the AIFF 20lakhs to have a foreigner which the AIFF must put directly into more regional academies. The I-League could be expanded which would encourage greater regional representation, but games could be limited so that each team only plays each other only once in the league. Broadcasting rights could be sold by the tournaments.
I believe this is the way forward and it is more exciting than the boring old format used by Europe. AIFF let us show the world how to make football more exciting with our own unique structure that is neither MLS, EPL, nor IPL like, but is Indian Football. Let us not abandon proud traditions and our glorious history with the Worlds 3rd oldest football tournament, nor neglect the present which is the interests of the fantastic clubs in the current I-League, let’s thank FIFA and show the World how future leagues should be developed.