ISL : A new hope or another lost cause ?
A lot has been talked about the popular bidders and now owners of the various franchises of the IPL equivalent for Indian football, the Indian Super League , but there’s been very little mention of what the actual impact of this new modern style league might be. In what is being touted as the next big change for football in India, the Reliance IMG – Star Sports JV aims to establish football as the “second most favourite sport” in this cricket crazy country . ]
The glamour of international footballers – Dwight Yorke, Thierry Henry and Hernan Crespo being rumoured to be a part of the league in combination with owners like Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, John Abraham and Ranbir Kapoor is expected to give a boost in terms of catching the attention of the public this time around.
Despite all the good attached with a new format and an attempt to bring in more money into the long forgotten beautiful game, a large number of questions will be thrown at the league before its planned debut in September. Without a doubt, football has a large fan following in the nation, but unfortunately, it is not attached to the game at an “India” level.
Given the extensive coverage of football on television nowadays, fans are used to watching high quality football played by top class international footballers in the form of English Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga. If it is the leagues for youngsters, the middle-aged tend to wake up only during the world cups with their passion for the beautiful game and the level of football on display there cannot be matched anywhere else. It remains to be seen whether this planned and hopeful league will be able to garner the same interest as its more glamorous and successful foreign counterparts do.
The question of 2 leagues
It might not be a very popular league, but the AIFF (All India Football Federation) already has a year-round football league that just finished (I-League). Over the last couple of years, the I league has also managed to rope in a few corporates (JSW, Peninsula, Ten HD & Aircel), signing up more talent from the mid tier of European leagues, big club-rejects, MLS & Japanese players and also bringing in a few foreign coaches to raise the level of the game.
It might be a shame to see all of this effort go to a complete waste as we see the new, well-designed and media backed league come and take over as the Premier League for football in the country. It might not be very easy to erase all memories of proud long time club followers (the famous East Bengal – Mohun Bagan rivarly to name one) or push aside the investments of the club owners who have invested in the sport for ages now. According to Valanka Alemao, the chief executive of Churchill Brothers, ex-champions of the I-League, the ISL is going to kill the sleeping giant without allowing it a chance to wake up and get out of bed, referring to the sleeping giant tag given by Sepp Blatter about India’s untapped football potential.
Forget the existential questions posed to the I-League, the more worrying question is about the state of the same set of footballers who are likely to be picked by 2 different teams to play the same sport in the same year. Given the limited pool of domestic players and the lack of training facilities, it might take a much bigger toll than expected on the players more than anything else. This might be one of the largest challenges for the newly formed league, for a few marquee names do not make the team, but the local talent does.
Impact at a grass-root level
The IPL is probably the biggest testament to the fact that large money and big brands need not necessarily mean great impact at the grass-root level for the game. Most of the IPL teams do not have a large pool of local talent, nor do they actually seem to take an attempt to groom them through their year long off the league activities. Without the rules in place that mandate a compulsory squad quota for players from the region of the franchisee, the ISL might also fall in the same bucket before long.