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ISL: Salary cap or no salary cap? What it would mean for Indian football

ISL: Salary cap or no salary cap? What it would mean for Indian football


Published: 29 July 2020 9:30 AM GMT

An otherwise mundane Tuesday was going as usual until news broke out that ATK Mohun Bagan FC have urged the Indian Super League (ISL) to do away with the salary cap that each football club has to adhere to.

Suddenly, Indian football-dedicated social media pages started posting polls, posters and whatnot on whether or not the ISL should have a salary cap. A little surprisingly, most of these polls returned a 50-50 result with the opinion being widely divided.

Is removing salary cap the answer?

At present, the ISL forbids a club from spending more than Rs 16.5 crore on player salaries (transfer fees paid by a club are not included but loan wages are). If a club is found to have exceeded the salary cap, they would be fined and/or banned from signing players and/or points would be deducted. Of course, a ‘marquee’ player’s salary is not taken into account under the salary cap.

Now clubs like ATK Mohun Bagan are always wanting to win the title and to achieve that, they are not afraid to splash money to onboard the best talents across the country. If you have a host of domestic stars in the squad and on top of that, bring along the best foreign stars also, it is unlikely that you would be able to stay within the salary cap. Of course, there are many ways to manage the financials and play within the rules but if the cap is removed, then there is no need to go through all that trouble.


Indeed, doing away with the salary cap will change the Indian football transfer market. For one, it will be easier to convince players to sign longer contracts with their clubs. Under the current circumstances, say a promising young player will be paid Rs 15-20 lakhs in his first season which may rise to Rs 25 lakhs in the second and so forth, if he stays at the same club. The club would not commit more than Rs 25 lakhs for the second season on an untested player to keep within the salary cap.

On the contrary, in Europe, if a youngster is doing well, he is rewarded with a much higher salary. Take Manchester United’s Brandon Williams for example. The 19-year-old was on a £9,000-a-week contract which but after he broke through, he was handed a new contract worth 5-6 times of his initial salary.

That would never happen if there was a salary cap. Even if a player performs really well and establishes himself as a key member, chances are he would not be able to earn what he deserves if he signs a longer contract. Instead, he would, in most cases, opt for a one-year contract and take his chances next season.

But then again, without a cap, players would be dictated by money when choosing where they want to play, richer clubs would be able to entice them players with considerably higher wages, and it would make the way for stockpiling of top quality players by clubs with wealth.

Poorer clubs would be robbed off the chance to increase the quality of their squad and, ultimately, embrace the risk of bankruptcy in trying to maintain the high wage demands.

Also, with no limit on the number of high wage earning players at one time, clubs would look away from developing young home grown players and instead go for only big names.

The thing is, Indian football is yet to mature. It is just taking shape, forming a structure, and right now, the salary cap might be the only thing that is holding everything together. Consider the market, no ISL club breaks even. In fact, most run on losses of Rs 30-40 crore per season. And now, with the pandemic, there will be further implications on the economy.

Clubs like ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City, who are financially backed, may endorse ‘no salary cap’ but the truth is, there are other things that require more concern at the moment.

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