India, FIFA ranking 158, has started its expedition to make it among the giants of world football. The highest ever ranking achieved by the country, with over 1.2 billion people, is 94 and that happened almost two decades ago. Yes, India is a sleeping giant, when it comes to football. But, is ISL the answer?
The most famous player and former captain of India, Baichung Bhutia, retired a few years ago. In his prime, the 37-year-old had a dire spell at Bury FC, a club in the lower divisions of English football. His successor to the captainship, Sunil Chhetri, also hasn’t made it big at the club level. The Bengaluru FC ace got into the Sporting Lisbon B team, yet it didn’t fare out well in the end. Thus, the quality of players in the country needs a significant improvement.
The domestic league or the I-League had a pretty low viewership and it rarely ignited a sense of excitement among fans. Thus, IMG-Reliance joined hands with AIFF (All India Football Federation) and that is how ISL (Indian Super League) came into equation. The format of Indian Premier League was adopted for ISL after the success of the annual cricket league. With huge Indian celebrities like Sachin Tendulkar and Ranbir Kapoor showing keen interest, a lot of Indian audience got curious. And as soon as the names like Alessandro del Piero and Robert Pires were revealed as marquee signings, the audience all around the world got curious.
The league kicked off on 12th October and now, all eight teams have played one match each. The league looks promising, and there are a lot of positives as well as negatives that can be derived after the four match days.
Positives: The foreign players are fast, precise, technically very sound and their fitness level and overall quality is quite impressive. Even the retired and older players are keeping the crowd on the edge of their seats. Thus, the atmosphere in the stadiums is like never before for Indian footballers. This in-turn gives a sense of motivation to young players, who are yet to arrive to the bigger stage.
Negatives: The home grown players are nowhere near the level of foreign players. The quality in touches, fitness, vision and physical strength are clearly missing. The skipper of the national team has opted not to play in the first of its kind league in the country. Moreover, other players of the national team such as Nabi, Jeje Lalpekhlua looked pale. Yet it is unfair to judge them from just the opening game. And with the progress of the tournament, we might see improvement in the teams as a whole. The exposure to experienced and world class players will certainly help the Indian players.
Positives: The league is attracting numbers. The Indian Super League is successfully filling up majority seats in the stadiums. Also, the Hero ISL is being broadcasted in over 100 countries. The league is definitely looking to shake up the status quo as big names such as Del Piero, David James, Pires, Silvestre are bringing in numbers, which are not quite possible in the I-League, except a few big derbies. Therefore, it could be a foundation stone for the grass root development.
Negatives: Many ardent football fans are suffering with the glamour and glitz. The post match awards like ‘Fittest Player of the Match’ seem downright embarrassing. Annoyingly, Man of the Match is termed as ‘Hero of the Match’ mainly because of the title partners Hero Moto Corp. Also, there is a ‘Swift Moment of the Game’ which might not ring a bell to many football fans around the world. Some team names such as ‘Delhi Dynamos’ and ‘Kerala Blasters’ seem quite odd to most of the sane fans.
Positives: It will get better with time as more players like Ljunberg, Anelka and Mutu will join their respective teams.