With the long-planned Indian Super League (ISL) scheduled to start in September, India’s premium club competition, the I-League will be pushed back as a direct consequence. The new franchise-based tournament is a two-month affair and is due to start in mid-September, the same time the I-League normally commences. As a result, the All India Football Federation plans to reschedule the I-League in December and may even cut-short the competition. So, let us take a quick glance of the effects a delayed I-League may cause.
Impact on National Team
What is common between the nations Malawi, Malta, Dominican Republic, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname? For starters, many people will not recognise the names of these countries at once; but what is more startling is that all of the above mentioned countries are ahead of India in the FIFA World Rankings! As astonishing it may sound, it is the truth. India are currently ranked 147th in the standings. Being 147 out of 207 is pretty poor and India will be surely desperate to climb up the standings. And the best way to do that is to play more international friendly games. But the rescheduling of the I-League will severely hamper the Indian national side’s preparations. In addition, the players, who will be playing in the ISL, have to perform in an additional tournament in the already congested fixtures list which may drain their energy while on international duty. Indian coach Wim Koevermans also thinks that a delayed I-League may have a detrimental effect on the national team.
“Our first opportunity to play is in September. The ISL probably starts in September. And the I-League clubs only start the league in I think December. It might affect the preparations of the national team. We have got to see how it’s going to work out,” Koevermans said earlier.
Conference Model For I-League
In a bid to shorten the duration of the I-League and reduce its expenses, the AIFF may adopt a conference model for India’s premium club competition. The conference model will divide the I-League clubs in two groups and the top two teams from each group will then progress to fight it out for the coveted title. This model is popular in the United States with MLS played in this format. But a conference model in India will severely reduce the charm and romance associated with the I-League. A major highlight of the I-League is that each team travels to different parts of the country to play their away fixtures, thus enabling them to experience varying testing conditions. Succeeding in these tough away games is a vital determining factor in being crowned the champions of India. And the conference model will all but take it out of the equation as the I-League sides will be divided in two groups, the Eastern and Western Conference. AIFF tried to implement the model in the 2013/14 season, but later backtracked from their stance after facing stern rebuffs from the club officials. But with the ISL certain to happen this term, thus pushing back the I-League, the conference model is a possibility in the upcoming campaign. Apart from taking away the thrills of home and away fixtures, this model will also rob the spectators of witnessing clubs from other regions of India locking horns with their beloved side. For example, the Dempo-East Bengal rivalry has been one of the key highlights of the I-League for the past few seasons, but if the conference model is really in place from next season, the Indian football fans may not get the opportunity to witness the spectacle.
Normally, the I-League wraps up by late-April, before the hot and humid summer engulfs most of the nation in May-June. But with a delayed start, the players will be forced to play in soaring heat. And with a number of stadiums yet to install floodlights, certain matches will be held in the afternoon and one should remember that heat strokes are not uncommon in these circumstances. If the playing conditions are not ideal then the quality of Indian football will never improve and we will continue lamenting our poor FIFA World Ranking standings.
Player Contracts & Financial Strain On The Clubs
Most of the I-League clubs operate on a strict budge and delaying the I-League will harshly increase their wage bills as they will have to pay their players more for the extra period. Due to the summer transfer window, the clubs will have to rope in the players by July. But if the I-League starts in December, clubs will have to pay the players their salaries, despite not playing any match. The footballers may also lose their motivation after sitting idle for such a length of time, and by the time the I-League starts, they might not be able to perform at their best. In addition, a December start also effectively kills the importance of the winter transfer window, an opportunity all the clubs use to rope in new players in place of the under performing ones. A solitary useful transfer window may well be the cause for fatigues and injuries during the crucial run in of the I-League campaign for several sides.
Rescheduling the I-League from September to December in order to free up time for the inaugural ISL will do more harm than good for the betterment of Indian football. Yes, the ISL may be a dazzling tournament where international footballers may participate. But for that pushing back the I-League makes no sense. The I-League is and will remain to be India’s prime club competition and it should not be compromised for any given reason; and the failure of the AIFF officials to gauge the effects of a delayed I-League is baffling. But we sincerely hope the officials will give proper importance to the I-League over the coming years.