Reliance Industries, IMG Worldwide and Star India, announced the launch of the ‘Indian Super League,’ an IPL style football championship that promises to foster local talent and feature international stars with the aim of making the game one of the country’s flagship sports and India a name to reckon with in the global arena.
The organizers have claimed that the league is way to revolutionize the sport from the very get-go, leveraging the strengths of all three partners who are focused on growing the game to national prominence, offer Indian football greater global exposure and eventually help India qualify for the 2026 World Cup.
The league is set to kick-off in September 2014 and finish its first season in November of that year. The league is expected to run along the lines of the Indian Premier League and football league of the United States.
“Football, with its largely untapped potential in the country, has the opportunity to grow to an unrivaled commercial success quite unlike any other sport. We hope the growing football footprint will pave the way for the nation’s sporting renaissance,” said Mrs. Nita M. Ambani, Chairperson of IMG-Reliance at the launch of this ambitious league.
However,havingwitnessed the unfolding of the true nature of IPL is recent past, football fans in India are genuinely hoping that Indian Super League does not ends up on the similar page. Another question which is more important than the first one is whether the league will truly be able to fulfill its promise and mark the arrival of India on the Global football stage by fostering the local talent?
To be organized later this year by IMG-Reliance, marketing partners of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the Indian Super League has evoked strong response from Bollywood stars and top industrialists. It will, organizers say, change the way football is viewed in this part of the world, but Valanka Alemao, CEO of I-League champions Churchill Brothers, isn’t ready to jump on the bandwagon.
“Tell me what has changed? They have the same money-driven plan, ageing players and a tournament that has no sanctity. Of what use is a tournament that has no promotion or relegation system,” asked Valanka, who has made her opposition to the tournament known at every possible stage.
The whispers of a football tournament on the lines of the Indian Premier League (IPL), India’s annual cricketing extravaganza, were first heard as long back as more than three years back, when IMG-R had signed a 15-year contract with AIFF in December, 2010, thus acquiring the marketing rights for tournaments organized by the AIFF. The deal was worth Rs. 700 crores, which were to be paid to the AIFF in installments over the 15-year period. Less than three years following the deal, IMG-Reliance’s influence in Indian football administration has grown into such proportions that the role of AIFF itself is extremely questionable nowadays.
Many Indian football administrators, and players involved with this new league, have offered explanations about how this tournament would help in taking Indian football to a higher pedestal. With the possibility of watching world-renowned football stars in their homeland, a large number of football fans in India, a majority of whom are ignorant about the domestic football scenario, have expressed their excitement at this new tournament too. However, taking a deeper look at this event, things do not appear too well for Indian football.
The league will have eight franchises in its league, each side with 22 players in its squad, 10 of which will be foreign players. The 10 foreign players will include a ‘marquee’ signing, who will help in pulling crowds to the games. The entire tournament will be held in a two-month span, with eight franchises from different cities fighting it out for the title, and will follow the format of the IPL.
Since the National Football League was revamped into the supposedly more commercial-friendly I-League in 2007, things have not really moved ahead for India football. The top flight tournament has, over the years, suffered from a lack of interest, absence of corporate involvement, low quality of football, and a collective display of unprofessionalism from both the clubs and the AIFF.
The AIFF runs the annual league, and clubs have little say in it. I-League clubs spend crores of money every year, strengthening their team, trying to earn a respectable position in the league. Sadly for these clubs, they get little money in return for their investments, which are not even enough to cover their costs.
The organizers’ rationale behind this fresh endeavor of ISL is that the event will attract serious attention from Indians, and will boost the popularity of the domestic game. Tendulkar has bagged the franchise for Kochi in association with business group PVP ventures, which also owns a team in the Indian Badminton League. Ganguly will co-own the Kolkata team as part of a consortium that also includes the current Spanish highfliers Atletico Madrid.
Along with Sachin and Sourav, Bollywood heartthrobs Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and John Abraham will also hug the touchlines once the ball sets rolling. Each of the eight teams will have a marquee player and the names doing the rounds are the likes of former Manchester United star Dwight Yorke, former Arsenal and French star Thierry Henry, former Argentina striker Hernan Crespo and former Swedish star Fredrik Ljungberg. The first edition is scheduled to be held from September to November this year.
However, not everything about this much talked about event is negative. For one, the infusion of superior technical expertise and management systems that investors like current La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid and other celebrity international managers will bring to the table, will provide a valuable learning curve for the Indian officials associated with such teams. Indian players, too, will benefit from more advanced training, tactics, recovery and support regimens that mega-budgets unseen in Indian football will bring in.
Besides, if the development work that the franchise are supposed to do actually translates into reality, it will do immense good to Indian football in the long-run.
The initial success of the ISL will depend on the icon players like Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Hernan Crespo, Dwight Yorke, Louis Saha etc. who will line up for their respective squads. The bigger the names, the more hoopla will the ISL generate, and the more eager will crowds be to swell the turnstiles. And unlike I League, all teams will be playing at their respective “home” grounds which will help to generate enthusiasm amongst the local fans.
Having discussed the possibilities of failure or success of ISL, it is needless to say that the final outcome will depend on the management of the league. And in the meantime, Indian Football fans hoping for the best possible boost-up to the much maligned Indian football.