First the was the IPL then the was the HIL and from tomorrow there will be the ISL. What is the ISL? It is the Indian Super League, a brand new football competition aimed at restoring the game into the consciousness of the people of India. A game that has slipped further and further behind ever since the national team flew home without playing a game at the 1958 World Cup because FIFA stipulated that they must wear boots and could not plain bandaged feet as they had done to qualify.
There had been debate at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne as to whether the Indian players should be shod, but FIFA President Sir Stanley Rous left the decision up to them. Interestingly they opted to wear boots! The dispatched Australia 4-2 in the Quarter Finals, with Neville de Souza becoming the first Asian player to score a hat-trick at the Olympics. They lost their semi final match to Yugoslavia and the bronze medal match to Bulgaria.
India is tryng to rev up interest in the game and also unearth players to match those from the fifties as in 2017 they will host the FIFA Under 17 World Cup.
There will be plenty of razzmatazz to start the Indian Super League but many will be looking on with great interest to see what the standard of football is like.
The timing of the league is not the best coming so soon after the start of all of the European competitions and at a time when these clubs are grabbing most of the headlines.
The plan is a simple one, and one that has been used in the North American Soccer League and MLS in the 70s and 90s, as well as Japan’s J-League in the 90s and more recently Australia’s A-League. Bring in mature international players to pass on their skills, experience and attitude to a pool of talented local players, in the hope that it will prepare them to make the next step up at international level.
As with the aforementioned leagues the clubs’ will all have “marquee signings.” The players signed up for the ISL reads like a who’s who of football. The only trouble is its a who’s who from at least a decade ago. The list includes former superstars such as Luis García (Atlético de Kolkata), David Trezeguet (FC Pune City), Robert Pires (FC Goa), Fredrik Ljungberg (Mumbai City FC), and David James (Kerala Blasters). James at least only stopped playing in 2013, aged 43. Garcia who ended his career in Mexico retired at the start of the year aged 35, Alessandro Del Piero was strolling around the A-League in 2014, and David Trezeguet was in Argentina, so they were all at least still playing. Pires retired in 2011, Ljungberg in 2012, and one wonders how they will fare. The best of the “old boys” looks to be Brazilian Elano who was playing for Gremio and is the youngest recruit at 33.
The managers too are some blasts from the past and include Zico at Goa , Peter Reid at Mumbai and Ricki Herbert at North East United. Italian world cup winner Marco Matterazzi will be making his debut as a senior coach as will David James although the latter has coached at IBV in Iceland and at Luton Town. It will be interesting to see how the old wise heads fare against the new young turks.
Millions have been invested in these big names as well as in the league itself. There is no doubting that the sheer volume of people in India means there is a massive potential television audience as well as a huge pool of potential players. However are India making the same mistake as other nations, putting the cart before the horse. There is no doubt the passion for football is there,and especially amongst the younger generation. However this will not guarantee India a superstar or success. The sad facts are that if you have talent as a cricketer or hockey player you are far more likely to be spotted and then given access to better coaching.
The All India Football Federation are hoping that the ISL will be a huge success and fans will flock to the games. They are also hoping that it will turn a drip into a flood of young players wanting to play the game. Hopefully that will be the case, and hopefully the League will survive long enough for those inspired young players to have the chance to grace the ISL stage. Let us hope that the ageing stars do in fact attract people to the game and earn the large sums of money they are receiving to promote football. If they don’t it may have proved one Super League concept too many for India.
Watch this space…