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Debate: Can the Indian Super League improve Indian football?

Debates are meant to provide a diversity of opinions, with the perspective of various parties justifying the question posed. Debates on Outside of the Boot serve this exact purpose. Writers will engage in these discussions every week, providing readers with that diversity.

This week’s topic is about the Indian Super League (ISL). The ISL has been successful in gathering the attention of football fans and media all over India and indeed beyond. The signing of big name players such as Del Piero, Pires, Ljungberg etc. has ensured that people are at the very least intrigued by the tournament. However, a faction of fans have voiced their concerns regarding the level of impact the tournament will have on Indian football in the long term and effect on the I-League. So can ISL improve Indian football?

ISL Debate

Charles Wood:  ISL will no doubt will be a success in their first season and drive the audience from their homes to the stadium. The tournament, with IMG-Reliance’s expertise and financial backing, simply can not fail. Timing of the tournament was always going to be crucial and with the U-17 World Cup coming up in 2017, ISL will sow the seeds of interest for the sport and will also give a new lease of life to the “Lakshya 2022”. It has already placed India on the World Football map and will continue to keep it in talks at the global level.

All that being said about the ISL, the picture isn’t that pretty yet. While ISL will draw massive crowds, a majority of the audience will come out with an interest only for the foreign players. I doubt it will drive any interest towards Indian football in general, a fact backed up with the number of empty seats at major events like the I-League and I-League U-19. Seven foreign players in a national league is a luxury that can be afforded by countries with developed football infrastructure. I haven’t heard of a country which has succeeded with two primary league system. The I-League will definitely be shadowed by ISL’s financial superiority, brand management and star power. The lingering question is, If the ultimate aim was the development of football in India, why wasn’t the I-League reshaped or managed better by applying the similar concept of ISL? Or simply merged with the existing system of the I-League?
India needs a better grassroots programme. A majority of the the coaches recruited by the grassroot programmes of the ISL clubs are “AIFF D” licensed coaches or at the most “AFC B” licensed coaches. If the ISL management can afford to spend big on retired foreign players, I assume they surely have the financial power to appoint “UEFA A”  licensed coaches.
In all fairness, we should give the inaugural edition a chance and save our judgement for the end. It is for the first time that Indian football is being talked at the global level, let’s just rejoice that fact. (@charleswood09)

Chintan Mehta: The topic for discussion is very debatable and has a shade of both the answers and being an optimist I would say yes. ISL will help India to wake up from its football slumber.

The sport is popular in only certain areas of the country and with ISL it might create awareness and increase the popularity of the game. Football Enthusiasts will look forward to see the stars of yesteryear perform and impart their knowledge to the youngsters who have seen them only on television sets. With increasing investment, training facilities and pitches will get better which in turn help the players improve their game. ISL might inspire more kids to take the game seriously. Kids have a realistic chance to play with international stars and improve their game, let alone the fact that the pay cheque will quench and satiate their financial needs. It’s a whole new aspect and it is exciting to see what awaits us.

Overall, an interesting project which might turn a few eyes. India with a population of 1.2 billion can be next big untapped market for the scouts. Two and a half months seems like a short period of time and I hope the period of the league is increased in the future but you can’t have everything. A start indeed and let us hope it reaches the height we all expect it to accomplish. (@Chintanmilan07)

Wasi Manazir: Yes. Absolutely. There are far too many cynics around bashing the new league but in my opinion there is no harm at all in money coming into Indian football. Considering that the lack of resources has always been the biggest Achilles heel for the growth of football in the country, I don’t see how money being pumped in it will hurt Indian football. Majority of the fans who watch the established European leagues might not like or appreciate the franchise based system or its potential impact on the I-League, but these arguments are sidestepping the good it can do to the game. The big money foreign players may be long retired or nearing it but I believe their mere presence, experience, and insight will help develop our youngsters understand and improve their game which will be a big boost in improving our national team. Youngsters will have a chance to get noticed and ISL can fast track their ascent to the Indian team or perhaps even earn them trials with foreign teams. Improved infrastructure is another thing to look forward to. I for one see ISL being more good than bad for Indian football.


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