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As Fikru scored a sublime dink finish over the bombarding Subrata Paul, the Indian Super League was on it’s way to glory and galore. Brainchild of IMG Reliance, the Indian Super League -believe it or not- is the fourth attempt to re-energize the crumbling Indian football, which lauded glory back in the times of Rahim Saab, the Mohammaden Sporting of the 1930s and the legendary side of Mohun Bagan in 1911.

Priyanka Chopra’s opening ceremony antics would although captivate the Bollywood frenzy nation, eclipse the Legends of Indian Football, who were given less than 2 minutes of screen time at the ‘Mecca of Indian Football’, Kolkata. Fast forwarding into the first few matches of the Super League, Indian players being sidelines and played out of position, were a common sight.

Both Lalrindika Ralte and Raju Gaikwad, were played out of position of Mumbai’s first inaugural match against Atletico de Kolkata. While the former started as a striker in a two men attack force, whilst being a traditional winger, the latter started as left back, whilst being a traditional center back. Sandesh Jhinghan and Gurwinder Singh are other examples of players being played out of position by the franchisee of Kerala Blasters. Delhi Dynamos started with Adil Khan, who was deployed as a right back, whilst being a midfielder. Although, there are numerous examples of Indian players being played out of position, these are just a few to start with.

There are two conclusions which are equally justifiable and equally valid. Firstly, if players are being played out of position, then their overall growth is not progressing. It is okay to switch and experiment positions when a player is at his budding age, but experimenting in a league is much more outrageous. How can a player perform when he is not suited to that particular position? Obviously, both Ralte and Gaikwad went on to have howlers in the particular matches, disappointing as per their standards.

Deploying midfielders as defenders, only to accommodate a foreign midfielder is another trait of almost all Super League sides. Adil Khan of Delhi Dynamos was used as a Right Back to accommodate the midfield duo of Hans Mulder and Bruno Arias, while Gurwinder Singh, a traditional Center Back was operated as a Midfielder, to accommodate a foreign defender, in one of the Kerala Blaster’s match. The problem lies when players who are ‘traditional’ to their role ply their trade in a completely different domain, a domain that they have never even experienced. It is not rocket science to conclude that if a 20 year old player is playing out of position, he will continue to disappoint, as there is always room for error given that he is not at all comfortable to that particular position.

Sandesh, has adapted to his makeshift role brilliantly.

Sandesh, has adapted to his makeshift role brilliantly.

The second point is ‘versatility’. We all know that Italian sides can play with three defenders, transit to four and transit back again to three, reason being versatility. While some might argue rightly that players being played out of position may take their toll, others could point out to the Italian system of operation or even the Dutch Total Football. Versatility is good and it gives options to a player. Sandesh Jhinghan, who is a traditional Center Back has flourished in his role of a Left Back. Now this provides, Jhinghan with two key formulas, either Jhinghan could operate as a Left back or a Center back. But, knowledge of both these positions would go on to flourish and expand his game, and his game reading abilities.

The two possible conclusions can be easily clubbed into one – If a player is adjusting to his new transited role, then play him accordingly while feature him in his new role regularly. But if a player is not at all adjusting to his new role, then revert him back to his more favored position. Although, versatility comes from the training ground, Jhinghan has proved that there could be a way to evolve in this league scenario too, while other have proved Jhinghan wrong and succumbed to the perils of playing out of position.

Another trait of the Super League is the quality of football and the Indian players involved in it.

Arguably, the Indian Super League is just a mere note forward in terms of quality of football when rivaled against I-League. Surprising as it is, the first Mumbai vs Kolkata match was one of many, to feature a very I-League type scenario. Although, some matches have featured real high quality and tense football, it would be right to say that these tense and high octane scenarios are often chalked out by foreign players and not Indians. Indians are mere pieces of the team, playing down simple passes for foreigners to govern. We have Luis Garcia in Kolkata, Hans Mulder in Delhi, Koke in NorthEast United, Robert Pires in Goa, Kostas in FC Pune City, Andre Moritz in Mumbai, Elano in Chennaiyin FC – Indians? None! All these names, have been lynch pins to their respective teams.

Only 1 Indian Player stars in the Goal Scoring and Goal assists chart (Pic Courtsey: ISL Media Team)

Only 1 Indian Player stars in the Goal Scoring and Goal assists chart (Pic Courtsey: ISL Media Team)

Zico, understanding the situation or perhaps as some might contradict, gaining points in front of the AIFF, rightly pointed that the inclusion of five Indians is very less. Five Indians and Six Foreigners was the verdict by IMG, and given that Indians often operate as Goalkeepers, Defenders or Midfielder, the Super League has not benefited the overall ratios of Indian Football development. After obliging to the new trend of deploying Indians as goalkeepers, it can be rightly concluded that there is no room for development as a cohesive unit if Indians are to be deployed somewhere other than between the sticks. As outrageous it might sound, only Jeje and Balwant Singh are two recognized Indian strikers who have gone to score goals. Five Indian players are just a number to mere to start in a group of eleven, and Zico has correctly pointed out that if Indian Football has to grow as a cohesive unit, more Indian players should be involved.

Another issue which surfaces rigorously, is the exclusion of young Indian talents. Mandar Rao Desai, who highly impressed fans and critics alike, has warmed the Goan bench thus far. Manandeep Singh, who boasts a prolific goal scoring tally, has succumbed to the Delhi benches. Boithang Haokip has featured for NorthEast, but has often operated in positions unknown to the young Indian.If Indian talent has to be promoted and nurtured, then it is no rocket science that young budding Indians must be given a start.

Now that the On-field topics are more than concluded, lets focus on some Off-field Chutzpah.

While some might argue, that the involvement of Bollywood is good for gaining fans and attracting audience to the Stadiums, others might contradict that these ‘streaks’ don’t belong in Football. Priyanka Chopra sidelining marquee players for her Bollywood buddies, at the opening ceremony, was a shocker for all proper footballing fans. Chutzpah, as it is termed, reeks of foolishness and of shambles when talked about the off-field activities. A cricket type ceremony which does no good to fans or media, is often initiated after every ISL game, its aim, still elusive. What is outrageous is all of this publicity and all of this Bollywood razzmatazz has gone to a league which does not even features team such as the might East Bengal. Imagine, the type of popularity I-League clubs would get when say a Sachin Tendulkar is associated with Dempo, or perhaps a Sourav Ganguly with Mohun Bagan. Out of the lid, right? But unfortunately like always our brilliant co-owners instead of having a Bengaluru FC type approach and actually befitting the league, have gone out to dish money at the destructive end.

While this glamour has attracted people, it has also assassinated the I-League, quietly.

Although, conclusions above might seem regressive and astounding, we have to face that this Super League could possibly be the end of the I-League.

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