Indian football fans were treated to a new venture last year when All India Football Federation (AIFF) launched the Indian Super League (ISL) amidst much fanfare. The new league has eight teams (from major Indian cities) playing each other on a home and away basis, before the top four in the points table play in the semi-finals which eventually culminates into a summit clash. The league has seen the involvement of some of the biggest corporate houses as well as celebrities from as diverse fields as cricket and film industry. Some of the teams even have partnerships with prominent European clubs like Atletico Madrid, Fiorentina and Feyenoord.
ISL has attracted European and South American football players, who are past their prime – some have even come out of retirement to feature in the league – and Indian players.
However, by most yardsticks, the league, which is nearing the completion of its second season, has largely been a success.
ISL has widely been compared with the United States’ Major League Soccer. And there are definitely parallels between the two: both the leagues are relatively new, they attract players who are nearing the end of their playing careers, and teams attract great support from the locals.
However, there are some differences as well. Where MLS has managed to attract the players of the calibre of Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, David Villa and even Sebastian Giovinco in the recent past, ISL has only been able to coax retired, semi-retired or players from some of the obscure leagues.
The reasons for the lack of stardust of the same quality as the MLS in the ISL are plenty. Firstly, India isn’t as attractive a destination for the global stars of the game as the United States. Secondly, despite the huge influx of money in the game, the wages of the MLS players cannot be matched by the ISL teams. Thirdly, the infrastructure in India still needs a massive overhaul to come at par with the European and MLS standards.
However, the attendance figures have been very encouraging for the ISL and if it continues to attract the investment from the bigwigs of the Indian corporate scene, then surely in the coming years it can rival the MLS.