What we have learned from the Hero Indian Super League so far
Earlier this year I had written on what to expect from the inaugural season of the Indian Super League(https://www.sportskeeda.com/football/is-indian-super-league-right-way-forward-indian-football).
Now that we are well into the second half of the league of just 8 teams, let us take a look at what we have learnt so far and how the teams have fared in the ISL.
Well before a ball was kicked in the Hero Indian Super League, one thing was certain; large crowds would turn up. As expected, they haven’t disappointed.
With an average attendance of 22,639 (as on 9th November) the Hero ISL is the most attended football league in Asia and the fifth in the world behind the Bundesliga (Germany), Premier League( England), La Liga (Spain) and Serie A (Italy). For a country whose national team is ranked 159th in the FIFA rankings, these stats are staggering. Our fans may not look the deal when compared to the European football fans, but the stands are packed and the roof comes down every time a goal is scored.
Also, teams like Atlético de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters have turned their respective home grounds into fortresses with fans pouring in each game, enjoying their time in the stadium.
The glamorous team ambassadors and owners have done their bit in attracting crowds as well, kudos!
THE INDIAN PLAYERS
One of the many objectives of the ISL was to uplift the Indian players so that they get an experience of what it is to play at the top level alongside experienced foreign players. To ensure this, the ISL requires each team to field 5 Indian players at all times. The Indian players seem to have gelled quite well with their foreign and marquee team-mates.
Players such as Rehenesh TP (North East United FC), Sandhesh Jhingan (Kerala Blasters), Jeje Lal Pekhlua (Chennayin FC) and Cavin Lobo (Atlético de Kolkata) have all impressed with good individual performances. For these Indian players’ whose only experience of professional football was limited to the I-League, (All India Football Federation’s first professional football league) this is an all new level of professionalism. After two months of quality training and traveling with their respective teams, it is certain that these young Indian players will come out as better professionals at the end of the tournament.
The heavy weight sponsors of ISL such as, HERO and Reliance have not shied away from spending big bucks. At the end of each game as many as five awards are given away to the players including a strange one called the “fittest player of the match”. Though I find this having a strange similarity with kindergarten competitions where every participating child is a happy winner, this will hopefully bring out the best in each player.
The tournament began with a grand opening ceremony and was carried out with much grandeur. There was a vibrant display of sound, lights and colours and was hosted by Bollywood diva Priyanka Chopra.
The broadcasters and event managers deserve special praise as everything from the television broadcast to the atmosphere at the venues have been of high quality.
THE QUALITY OF FOOTBALL
All the glamour and glitz aside, at the end of the day what really matters is game itself. The quality of football I’m afraid has still a long way to go. At the end of 10 rounds of fixtures, the quality of football in showcase has been poor.
The game is played at a very low tempo and the concept of possession football is yet to sink into the young Indian footballers. Possession is given away cheaply and games are often a galore of miss passes. As they say in England, the football has been of ‘Sunday league’ standard.
The hot and humid conditions can be held partially responsible for this, as players continuously keep getting worn out or go down with cramps towards the end of games.
But having said that, there have been signs of improvement, as both Indian and foreign players have stepped up to the occasion at times to display some brilliant team performances.
Table toppers Atlético de Kolkata has been the most consistent team so far with their star striker Fikru Lemmessa firing upfront. Their Spanish contingent consisting of former Liverpool players Luis García and Josemi ,Jofre and Real Madrid academy graduate Borja have all been massive for them.
Bollywood Star Abhishek Bacchan’s Chennayin FC has been all guns blazing right from the start. Brazilian Marquee player and the former Manchester City striker, Elano Blumer has been consistently finding the back of the net for the South Indian club. Defender Bernand Mendy, one of the highest earning foreign players, has to his name, arguably the best goal of the ISL so far.
Kerala Blasters FC had a run of away games before they could play home. But it was worth the wait. Kerala Blasters can boast of having the highest attended football game in Asia (against Atlético de Kolkata) as a crowd of 57000 turned up for the game. Former Indian cricket legend, Sachin Tendulkar’s team has quality players such as Iain Hume, Steve Peterson and former Liverpool and Manchester City man David James in their squad to their advantage.
Led by star man Robert Pires, and managed by Brazilian football great, Zico; FC Goa has had an in and out run of form. Australian striker Tolgay Ozbey and Indian full back Narayan Das have been their top performers.
The league’s best star studded team has to be Mumbai City FC. Former Bolton, Liverpool and Chelsea striker Nicholas Anelka has netted a couple of times and lifelong gunner (Arsenal player) Fredrick Ljumberg has also featured for the Mumbai side. German centre back, Manuel Friedrich fresh from playing the 2013-14 Uefa Champions League for Borussia Dortmund has been Mumbai’s anchor in defense.
The club belonging to the capital city, Delhi Dynomos have been the league’s underperformers. Despite having a FIFA World cup winning striker, Alessandro Del Piero in their side, they have struggled to find their feet in the league. Striker Matts Junker along with Steven Dias, known as the Indian Backham has been the top performers of Delhi.
North East United FC managed by Ricki Herbert has one of the youngest sides in the league and have showcased high tempo and good quality football. The Spanish duo of Juan Capdevilla and Koke has led the young side by example.
Another misfiring side in the league has been Pune City FC captained by former Euro cup winner and World Cup runner up David Trezequet . Former Liverpool and Arsenal midfielder, Jermaine was the latest addition to their squad. The side managed by Franco Colomba has a tough start to their campaign.
The start to the debut season of the ISL has been thrilling and frantic. It has shown us glimpses of promise and by the looks of it, is on its way to become a huge success.
All the 8 teams in the league are also addressing the age old problems of Indian football; lack of infrastructure and grass root level development. From what we have learnt so far, the future looks bright and we are heading the right way. However it is still a bit early to answer the million dollar question; is the ISL the right way forward for Indian football ?
The day is finally here for us Indian football fans, who have been following and admiring European and South American football, to proudly have a league for our own. We have waited long enough.