The more famous of the two football leagues in India, Indian Super League (ISL) is almost midway through its fourth season. Celebrity team owners, wide media coverage, thousands of fans in the stadiums, several traveling away fans, renowned foreign players and managers have been the highlights of the ISL since its beginning in 2014.
Its glamour, money, and success have attracted a major portion of the youth in the country which has traditionally been dominated by cricket. In spite of all its blessings, there are some major loopholes in the ISL's quest to revolutionize Indian Football.
This slideshow unveils some major drawbacks in ISL, proposed solutions and the author's take on this matter.
#1 No Contribution to the development of more football clubs
The ISL and the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in India, both led to a boom in the numbers of next-generation footballers in the country. Now the footballers in India can see their future in the sport. But one major question remains unanswered. How has ISL helped in the development of more Football Clubs in India?
Tottenham Hotspurs' Dele Alli is one of the most promising youngsters of English Football.
He has been Young Footballer of the Year for two consecutive years in England. Before becoming a Spurs' superstar, Alli was a player of a third tier football club MK Dons. Dele joined the youth system of MK Dons when he was aged 11 and broke into their first team five years later.
He was signed by Tottenham in 2015 for an initial fee of £5 million. But what would have happened if there had been no MK Dons? It is not only Tottenham who would have missed the talented youngster but it would have been a major loss to England and FA as well.
Some current English Premier League stars like Jamie Vardy, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, N'Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez once played their senior and youth football at second, third or even lower league football clubs in different countries.
These examples give us an idea about the importance of Local Football Clubs and Lower division football leagues in a country. A young football player needs a local football club that participates in a well-organized football league. The parents are reluctant to send young kids to distant football academies and clubs. This takes us to the root cause why football in India has not reached its full potential.
Some major Indian football clubs do take trials for their Junior and Senior teams but it is not sufficient. A two-hour football trial cannot tell how good and effective a football player can be for the team.
Some technically gifted participants might not be selected in the trials as they lack match experience. Quite often their talent is overlooked in an overcrowded short football trial. The numbers don't favor either. There are 10 ISL football clubs in a population of more than 1.3 billion people whereas only a city of London having a population of 8.7 million possesses more than 50 professional football clubs playing in various divisions of the FA.
#2 No Relegation Battle
Manchester City is currently sitting top of the English Premier League with 12 points clear of its nearest rival Manchester United. The dominance of Blue side of Manchester has put the end of premiership race with almost one-third of the season still to play for.
However, it is the relegation battle which has caught the excitement of the fans this time. Currently, mere 6 points separate the 10th placed Watford and the rock bottom Swansea City. Because of the huge premier league profits, the teams in the lower half of the table are desperate to avoid the drop.
It is the reason why this season has already seen 8 manager sackings. A lot of teams are pouring cash in the January transfer market as well to ensure their survival in the premier league.It is quite clear from the above-mentioned instance that relegation battle is a must for spicing up the league system.
The overall performance of a team in a league is motivated by two important factors; the charm of winning the league and the fear of the drop. Currently, there is no relegation system in the ISL which does not compel the teams at the bottom to perform better especially in the latter half of the league. Once the lower leagues are established, it will be a fun to watch the ISL until the last day.
The lower league teams when promoted will receive the chance to host some international celebrities in their cities or towns. There will be some teams in the ISL as well like Brighton and Bournemouth are there in the English Premier League. When people from the second and third tier cities of India see their local lads competing against the seasoned National players and some international World Cup players, they will remain ever enthusiastic for the fixtures. This development will improve the viewership of ISL greatly.
#3 Absence of A Cup Competition
On 20 February 2017 the fifth division side, Sutton United hosted the all-time record FA Cup holders, Arsenal in the fifth round. It was the greatest day in the history of the non-league club. The stadium was sold out with fans excited to see the superstars of North London.
The out of shape reserve keeper, Shaw who also worked for the club as the groundsman, was caught eating pie, live on the national television. This is the best example of how much excitement a Cup Competition can bring nationally.
ISL's introduction to a Cup competition like the FA Cup in England will be the most welcome update. In the Cup competition, even the lowest division team can fancy the possibility of playing against some of the biggest clubs in India. Some special talents can be scouted in these fixtures. A reserve goalkeeper like Wayne Shaw will be a treat for the eyes of the Indian fans too.
A Proposed Solution
If IMG, Reliance Industries, and Star Sports pump some money and personnel for the development of lower regional divisions of ISL, it would be the best thing for the development of Indian Football. An easy registration process for Football Clubs and players can trigger the numbers exponentially. The telecast of lower leagues on TV or Internet will help the bigger ISL clubs to scout young talents. Proper officiating, media coverage and data updates can make Football in India a lot more organized.
As described above, the clubs in lower leagues will also act as feeder clubs for bigger clubs providing them their talented players. The transfer market and player trading will contribute to the profits of the lower division clubs hugely. The gameplay standard in the ISL is also expected to improve when the best talents of the country are scouted and made to play in the premier league.
Checking possibilities of the Solutions
Reliance Foundation's Youth Sports Football Championship has been a huge hit nationally. Star Sports has also partnered with the Indian Government in the National School Games scheme called 'Khelo India'. With the success of such nationwide massive programs, the organization of lower division football leagues and a cup competition will not take a major effort.
Until lower divisions and a cup competition are introduced, the ISL will remain as a yearly held sports event organized for entertainment purpose only. In a country of more than a million football players, 10 teams of ISL are insufficient. The overlooked or not selected talented youngsters will remain under the shadows. The promising Football Clubs of the second and third tier cities of the country will never get a chance to play the ISL. It is crucial time now, ISL has to decide whether it will continue to profit by adding more franchisees or make substantial efforts to revolutionize Indian Football by adding some lower divisions.