Indian Football is passing through a crucial phase at the moment with the I-League in jeopardy after the AIFF’s approval to IMG-R to start a new franchise based tournament

I-League logo

After the inception of I-League the clubs have improved slowly but IMG-R’ s contribution has been very little. AIFF has made it mandatory for the clubs to complete all the club licensing criteria to become a fully professional club but have themselves failed to make the league a separate entity.

I-League has faced many criticisms of not being a Pan India league. The league has been restricted in few parts of the country. The clubs from Goa and Bengal have dominated the league and made it very difficult for the clubs in other region in the league. But even after all this club like the rise of Pune FC and Shillong Lajong has shown that if professionally managed , it is not difficult to form a club in India and run it successfully

 The clubs have started to attract fans and even the Goan and Maharashtra clubs which were criticized for low attendance attracted fans in huge number in last season. With all this development happening AIFF marketing partners IMG-R are planning to start their own tournament which will have few retired International players. This has put major doubt on the future of the clubs and the I-League. Here we analyse why IMG-R football tournament is not favorable for Indian football.

Football Is Not Cricket!

Football is not like Cricket; Football players need to play round the year to develop their skills and technique. The IMG-R tournament which will run for two months will not help Indian players to improve their skills but players may pick up major injuries. The I-League matches are played once a week and help players remain fresh and fit. The players after playing I-League match have 5 days to take a rest and can even analyse their mistakes and give improved performance in I-League.

India is a Cricket obsessed country and other than a few parts the game is followed like a religion. There is myth that IPL has made cricket popular in the country. Cricket was popular even before IPL had started. With the limited popularity of the beautiful game in the nation, the IMG-R backed tournament may not get such a response but with this step they might kill clubs in the country who are already finding it difficult to attract investors.

Indian Football Without Bengal, Goa and North East?

Kolkata Derby Crowd

The IMG-R league will never get accepted in the football passionate states like Goa, Bengal and the north east region. These regions already have the clubs which fans love and are passionate about. The fans have proved now and then that clubs are more important for them than retired international superstars. Argentina and Venezuela came in Kolkata at Salt Lake Stadium to play a friendly. The organizer  expected a large turned out of fans but even likes of Messi, Tevez and co. could not attract more fans than what we see during the Kolkata Derby. Even Similar sort of story happened in Goa. The Portuguese superstar Figo played in exhibition match but hardly 5000 odd fans turned out to see the match. The average I-League attendance in Goa is believed to be around 7000 fans per match and last couple of matches of Churchill Brothers at Tilak Maidan attracted more than 10000 fans. Shillong Lajong always get the full pack stadium and their fans love the club. The passion they have for their club is exceptional and it is highly unlikely that they will support the new IMG-R backed clubs and not imagine a football tournament in India without the regions of Kolkata, Goa and the North-East would be a crime

What About Clubs Hard Work?

The clubs invested heavily in the league since last so many years without any revenue and they have continued doing so this year too. The clubs were found wanting in signing below-par foreign players and were criticized heavily but trends have changed since last year with Prayag United bringing Costa Rican World cupper Carlos Hernandez. Even Dempo Sports club has attracted few international players this season. With the likes of Australian International Simon Collosimo and Ireland Junior International Billy Mehmat they will certainly attract a few more fans. The list of International players does not stop here. Low budget club like Shillong Lajong have made the super signing of T&T world cupper Cornell Glen. Indian clubs have started to sign some reputed players and AIFF should support them by promoting the league in spite of starting another league which will hamper the growing image of I-League. All the investment the clubs have spent on bringing some stars will go in vain if they are forced to play in the shadow of IMG-R tournament.

IMG-R since its association with Indian Football has not promoted I-league. The league is without title sponsors and there is zero revenue for the clubs. IMG-R in the last three years has not communicated with the clubs and is busy in drawing up charts with their plan to bring the new franchise league. Had IMG-R shown interest in developing I-League rather than their own league, I-League would have been at a better level and would have attracted a lot of investors. The amount of  brains they are using to make their league successful, if the same amount were used to do I-League successful than we could have had better results in Indian football.

The new league will not help to develop Indian football in any way but will be detrimental for the I-League. The IMG-R clubs will run just for 2 months and thus we cannot expect them to have age group teams. These club owners and organizer of the league will reap benefit of hard work put in by I-League clubs by signing few talented Indian players. There is a popular saying in Marathi “aayatya bilat nagoba” which describe IMG-R Intentions of getting benefits of I-league clubs hard work.

Pune FC Nurturing Young Talent

Each I-League clubs has around 50 players in senior team which either plays in I-League or regional league. Apart from this they have age groups team which plays in various age group tournaments. Pune FC is the club which has set benchmark in developing players in very short time of the club’s existence. The club has produced some good players and has promoted few of them in their senior team this year and surely they will get the benefit of it. Another club is Goan Giant Salgaocar FC; the greens have one of the best youth systems in the state and produced some good young players in recent years. The highly talented Brandon Fernandez who has attracted some of the European clubs was a part of Salgaocar FC youth team before joining ASD Cape Town. It will be unreasonable to expect the new franchises to have a youth development program and spend a portion of their budget on this aspect and this is a very major drawback of starting the new IMG-R backed league

I-League is still a new league and the AIFF  needs to give it some time to develop. Making it a separate legal entity will help clubs to promote the league on their own.  The league has already attracted stars and  the effective youth programs of various clubs have given is lots of hope in a better future of Indian football. IMG-R tournament will not only stop investment coming in the I-League but also put Indian youth football development in jeopardy. AIFF should understand the importance of I-league and promote it rather than supporting other league which could turn into a monster which will swallow Indian Football.