Finally, Indian Super league is here. It has dawned upon us. The wake up call for the 'sleeping giant of football' is here. So what does it mean for Indian Football? What does it mean for an Indian Football Fans? And, what does it mean for general populace?
Some big names have set foot in India to play in the ISL. Players who were great at one point in time. Marquee names like David James or Alessandro Del Piero or Luis Garcia don't need any introduction. But what does it mean for Indian Football? Watching them on our TV screens or seeing them on the Indian football grounds is great. But what growth does it promise? How can it benefit Indian Football in the long run?
ISL is based on the IPL and MLS model. A 10 week long football extravaganza which has already attracted many eyeballs. However, the real question is sustainability of this tournament. Most foreign players and coaches have been brought in on short term contracts. Someone like Zico may not be here after the tournament gets over. That means his 'expertise' is limited to the current tournament. Another thing is that ISL is not the top flight football league; it's a short tournament beside I-League. Yes, I-League still exists and would start in December. None of the franchises from ISL are likely to qualify for AFC because they don't comply with AFC rules (3+1 rule). The big marquee names are not going to play in the I-League. That means the I-League will most probably continue to have low attendance during its matches. So, is ISL just that? Money making machine which may not help football in India?
No, ISL has potential. The first thing it's got right is it has piqued people's interest. Now is the time to capitalize on it. How to do that? Yes, working at the grassroot level. Sports in general is not seen as a viable career option in India. It's understandable because if there's no money, why take it up? ISL has the potential to change that. You would want your child to take up football if it means a potential opportunity to play for one of the ISL franchises. Academies which can deliver such training need to be established. Schools should introduce basic training programs for the young ones. ISL in its current format should tie in with I-League in some capacity so that the 'marquee' players and coaches are required to spend time and take up assignments in I-League. ISL should be marketed with I-League. That'll help aspiring footballers to try and earn their spots in the I-League as well. I-League needs money as well. A change in its current structure is also required. Can you think of a structure where players from Mohun Bagan or East Bengal are trying to get into the Atletico de Kolkata team and earn and opportunity to train in Spain?
ISL has brought promise. But eventually it has to benefit the national football team. It shouldn't become like English Premier League where playing for your club becomes more important than playing for your country. Foreign players should be brought in. Foreign coaches should be brought in. But they should be required to take up some kind of assignments with the domestic football outside of ISL. They should look into the success story of MLS and J-League and implement that instead of going for simply short term financial gain. Investors would have to understand the importance of a long term plan instead of looking for short term profit. Loyal fan base has to be prepared. ISL has that potential.
I am keeping my fingers crossed as the ISL goes into its second round of matches. We'll revisit this as we progress.