The Indian Super League may have taken football to greater heights in the country since its inception, but it has asked a few questions also. The more significant debate lies in the fact that the cash-rich tournament is posing a massive threat to the traditional I-League. On the other hand, the ISL has managed to capture of the cream of the Indian footballers and in such extent that many promising talents are spending the lion’s share of the time at the bench than on the field!
Financially superior ISL clubs have recruited top players and even the second string stars from the I-League clubs and left its less glamorous cousin neglected than ever before. As per the law, only 11 players can be fielded by a team. The question lies whether the local lads are getting the opportunity to showcase their talents in the midst of big Indian stars like Sunil Chhetri to International stars like Tim Cahill?
The Indian Super League may have taken football to greater heights in the country since its inception, but it has asked a few questions also.
Let us take the example of Sheikh Faiaz, a winger who hogged the limelight while he was at Mohun Bagan during the last season of the I-League. During the transfer window, he was roped in by ATK with a lucrative deal. Although he was injured in the first month of the Indian Super League, he was overlooked even after. He was lucky enough that he was loaned to Mohun Bagan for the rest of the season. At least he will be given a chance to prove himself. Otherwise, the talent was being wasted.
Not only him, Debjit Majumdar, a former AIFF player of the year and two best goalkeeper award winner of the I-League hardly gets time under the sticks nowadays. Arnab Mondal was one of the best Indian stoppers when he was playing for East Bengal, but English tactician Steve Coppell more fancies foreign recruits in the Kolkata based ISL side. A regular in the I-League and India International Nirmal Chhetri has so far played a single game for FC Goa this season, same as Jamshedpur FC’s Sanjay Balmuchu.
Mumbai City FC’s Bikramjeet Singh was also loaned to Mohun Bagan recently. If the services are not at all needed, the players should not have been blocked from the beginning. Apart from hindering the growth of the footballers, it will also affect Indian football. I-League is an equally important competition, most of the Indian players in the national team had prospered in the I-League before they got an international call up. Udanta Singh, Eugenson Lyngdoh, Jackichand Singh, as well as players like Pritam Kotal and Pronay Halder has been successful in the I-League before they represented the national team.
Neglecting the I-League is not only vice the Indian Super League is accused with, but there are several others besides. The ISL was introduced to popularise the game in our country which was done to some extent. But undermining century-old clubs like Mohun Bagan, or other big clubs like East Bengal and Churchill Brothers FC has already made the league a bit unpopular in a few pockets. Especially when groomed players at their club are snatched away from their eyesight by clubs with corporate back-up.
In spite of good average attendances at the stadiums during the I-League fixtures, the broadcasters have decided to curtail the number of matches being telecasted. This was a massive blow to the league, even though the quality of football does not differ by a huge margin if we compare both the leagues. A unified league is an option in the Indian football circuit with a two-tier system, making provisions for promotion and relegation.
For example, the ISL teams do not have a relegation system, unlike all other top leagues around the world. The teams do not fear to maintain their position in the league as they are already confirmed of a place next season being a corporate side coupled with the norms of the organisers. This makes the Indian football system less competitive, which is not good for the sport in our country. India is playing the AFC Asian Cup after eight years; it is the sign of how improved the tea has been in recent times. Should this continue, the AIFF should take steps to make proper utilisation of the players for the higher interests of Indian football.