ISL 2017: How quality-control is improving Indian football
One of the main reasons for the success of ISL on the Indian soil is the quality of the games shown. The ISL clubs have spent large amounts to rope in the some of the big names in world football. The quality of the games shown in the ISL varies substantially from the quality of the games shown in other leagues like the I-League. This has enabled the growth of the ISL.
The quality difference is mainly due to the ISL rules which allowed 6 foreign players to feature in the team. So, more than half the team consisted of foreign players. Also each team was required to rope in a marquee player- someone who had played at a high level of football.
The coaches also had to be marquee. All these were put in as quality standards to the team. This ensured that a minimum quality was maintained by all the teams. By putting this into place, the ISL enabled the Indian players, who played the league to learn from the best and improve themselves.
Simply by watching the games in season 1 and watching the games in season 3, we can see the difference in quality in the Indian players. The national team rankings have also risen considerably, which can be attributed to this fact.
However, the ISL faced criticism that the marquee players were too old and did not contribute to the teams as expected. The srtingent rules for marking a player as marquee meant that the players who were willing to come into the ISL were way past their prime.
Most of them simply wanted to make a quick buck before ending their career. There is also the fact that the ISL teams have brought several players out of retirement. These players were clearly not able to contribute to the busy and demanding schedule. Marquee players were only able to show glimpses of their legacy, while playing in the ISL. Few players like Florent Malouda have influenced the game like a true marquee should.
The number of foreign players in the team also faced criticism from several coaches. The number of minimum Indain players in the team being fixed at 5 and the maximum foriegn players being fixed at 6, did not go down well with everybody. Some coaches like Steve Coppell even openly asked whether the league was for Indian players or the foriegn ones.
Some teams however took it upon themselves to provide opportunities for more Indian players. They play with more than the minimum number of Indians required in the team, which is a rare and futuristic feat. But most of the times, such teams find it hard to reach the semi-finals and finals.
Northeast was the one of the teams that tried to give chances to the young local players. The problem that they have is that the quality of their games drops, which is one of the reasons they have not been able to reach the semi-finals yet. But the flip side of the coin is that the local players get to play against quality oppositions and thus improve their game. This is seen from the fact that with each passing season, NEUFC have come more and more close to the semi-finals. It won’t be long before they reach there, hopefully this season.
The ISL has changed some of these rules. Now only 5 foreign players are allowed in a team,and the marquee players are no more compulsory. This means that the ISL teams no longer need to spend big bucks to try and convince a marquee player to come play in the league.
The effects of these changes on the field remains to be seen, but almost everyone from the coaches and the management to the fans watching the game seem to be optimistic about it. Ideally, after a few more seasons, we must settle at three or four foreign players in a team.
The ISL has maintained a level of quality by infusing foreign players with Indian players in such a proportion that the game was watchable and attracted Indian fans, who are used to watching high-quality matches in the European leagues.
The timings of the matches have also been moved to prime time, that competes with the leading leagues around the world. The matches have been stretched to over to 5 months, and the number of teams have been increased from 8 to 10. To summarie, we are slowly moving in to becoming a professional league rather than simply being a tournament.
The excitement is tremendous before the start of the new season. Another reason for the clubs to be happy is the extending of the schedule. This gives more time to travel and rest, a deficiency of which was experienced in the past three seasons. It also helps to improve the quality of the game by keeping the players fresh and fit.