Indian Super League (ISL) clubs will now have to play with a minimum of 7 Indian players on the field of play at any point in time. Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), the governing body of the ISL, has also simultaneously announced that clubs will now be allowed to register a total of six foreigners in the squad for ISL 2021-22. This is a reduction from the earlier number of seven.
The new rule also complies with the 3+1 rule applicable to AFC club competitions which was already in place in the I-League. Meanwhile, one foreigner in the squad has to be from an AFC member nation. Clubs can also sign a foreign marquee player within the ISL player classifications.
ISL's Impact on player development and Indian football team
ISL clubs, in general, do not play Indians in crucial playing positions at the domestic level. Indian players are usually handed the role of keeping goals, playing as wing-backs and wingers. India have a limited number of quality center backs, defensive midfielders, attacking midfielders and, most prominently, a goal-scoring forward.
The likes of Roy Krishna, Hugo Boumous, Edu Bedia, Ahmed Jahouh, Tiri and Igor Angulo have made it tougher for young Indian players to get a look in in these crucial positions in the league.
A reduction of foreigners to four on the field from the earlier five will allow 11 new Indian players to play for 90 minutes for the 11 current ISL clubs, thus significantly increasing the overall player pool of and game time for the Indian players, which will ultimately help the Indian football team.
The most important conundrum facing Indian football right now is finding Sunil Chhetri's replacement once he retires. Clubs will now be forced to play Indian forwards upfront in supporting roles and also scout forwards from lower leagues which can help the cause of finding a Chetri successor.
An increase in four developmental Indian players from an earlier count of two in the Matchday squads will further boost the youth player pool from next season.
ISL's Impact on AFC Club Competitions
ISL clubs have struggled in AFC Club competitions. While I-League clubs regularly made it to the knockout stages of AFC Cups with the 3+1 rule in place, ISL sides struggled to suddenly switch to a 3+1 style after playing with as many as five foreigners in the team throughout the domestic season.
Chennaiyin FC and Bengaluru FC faced group stages and even preliminary stage AFC Cup exits in the last few seasons, which can be solved with a 4 foreigner rule throughout the domestic season.
FC Goa had to drop Igor Angulo and Alberto Noguera for their recently concluded AFC Champions League campaign due to the 3+1 rule. This led to a lack of depth in the forward line for the club as they had no backup plans in place.