Is an ISL/I-League merger on the cards?
As with any new endeavour, there are naysayers.
Former India skipper and ex-Bury FC player, Bhaichung Bhutia, is anti-merger.
He believes that a union at this stage could dilute the standards of the ISL.
To have one league is very important, but at the moment it is not right to merge ISL with I-League and I don’t it should happen also. Two to three years down the line it can be thought and be implemented but currently it should not be done.
I think the inaugural ISL season was really successful, top foreign players are coming to India and the Indian players are getting to learn a lot from them. Last year players like Alessandro Del Piero came and now Roberto Carlos and Lucio are coming in.
To make it one league, we really need to wait and watch. At the moment I think ISL has done a lot for India and it should not be merged. I think I-League should be taken to a standard where ISL is at the moment and then think about merging. The ISL has set a high standard and its level should not be pulled down. First standard of I-League should be upgraded and the merging should be thought about.
It is just because of the ISL that Indian football fans have started watching football. It is really sad when you see I-League matches being played in almost empty stadiums, and when ISL is happening in the same place, thousands of people turni.
The authorities should step up and take a note of it about upgrading the level of I-League and then focus on merging the two leagues. All the state associations also have to come forward and help in upgrading the I-League. We also have to see if the teams and players get a chance to train in better facilities, better ground.
The ISL is beloved by the players with most, if not all, aspiring to be members of the elitist league. The current format allows only six foreign players to be fielded by a club in a game. The other five have to be domestic footballers.
The Indian Premier League is much more supportive of home-grown talent.
The rules state that each squad will have:
- A minimum of 16 players, one physiotherapist and a coach.
- No more than 10 foreign players in the squad and a maximum of four foreign players in the playing XI.
- A minimum of 14 Indian players.
- A minimum of six players from the BCCI under-22 pool.
The ISL rules allow up to 17 domestic players , four of which could have been purchased in the players auction. The rules also require that each club have at least two domestic players under 23 years in the squad. The minimum squad size is 22 and the maximum is 26. Indian players can be either free agents or loaned from from the Hero I-League.
FC Goa co-owner Dattaraj Salgaocar also does not believe that a fusion of the two leagues is a possibility.
Speaking to Times of India, he said:
Certainly not in the short term. The dynamics are different, especially with I-League teams qualifying for AFC tournaments. Add to this, we have to look at the financial implications of a merger … A longer league will adversely affect the financials of a team, unless the revenue model changes and all franchisees get a proper share of the sponsorship and broadcasting revenues.
Desh Gaurav Sekhri, a sports lawyer, blogging for the Economic Times, has his own viewpoint about the proposed unification.
While he agrees that the ISL is too abbreviated a league to do the sport in India any good and an extended season is the need of the hour, he does not believe that a joining of forces is the solution.
The I-league has been a product of the team-owners’ passion for football, and an outlet for stirring the loyalties of die-hard football enthusiasts for their respective teams.
The ISL on the other hand is a commercially driven entity, promoted and supported by the experience and monetary clout of its promoters. It has focussed on a more international flavour, and in its short window, excites the fan-bases who are as likely to flock to the stadiums to see their favourite international stars of the past as to become die-hard city-team loyalists.
A merger of both leagues would not work, because teams in each are established with different ideals. The I-league teams are bankrolled by their promoters, and are rarely profitable. Most would be valued at significantly less than a comparable ISL team, due to the latters’ entry price, a cap on the number of franchises in the league, and the guaranteed sponsorship money that the ISL teams receive.
A combination will add six-seven teams to the mix and may still not allow teams to make profits or turn the finances of the existing I-League teams around quickly enough.
Sekhri suggests a series of playoffs between the I-League and ISL champions. Also, a series of games featuring all-star teams from both leagues that would play each side in the opposing league is another option.
The ISL as the sole flagship league in India would be a folly, and one which could be attributed to the false optimism that the Indian Premier League has given to Indian sports. The IPL is only able to succeed because it is backed by a complete domestic season to develop cricketers, and the successful Indian national team has a huge following by itself.
Football, if it loses the I-league won’t have the former, and given its current state, the national team is very far from the latter. Unless the ISL becomes an extended league along the lines of the Premier League or La Liga, a merger of the two will not only be a failure commercially, it will also set Indian football back another decade or so.
Sekhri has a point. Indian football requires a league that goes on for at least five-six months and featuring 90-120 games for it to match the best of European leagues.
The Chinese Super League has 16 teams. It begins in Feb-March and ends in November-December. The top three teams plus the winner of the Chinese FA Cup qualify for the AFC Champions League. The bottom two teams are relegated out of the competition to the China League One and the top two teams are promoted up. The I-League,which is somewhat analogous,functions similarly with relegation and promotion with the I-League second division. However, no club has till now participated in the AFC Champions League.
The J-League has an even more interesting format. The year is divided into two halves—two seasons—with each half crowning a champion. At the end of the two stages, each stage’s champion and the top two-point accumulators in each stage take part in a playoff to decide the league champion.
The above is similar to what Sekhri recommends except at least three more teams in the fray. That could be another possibility. This is also the format followed by many Latin American leagues who term it ‘Apertura (opening)’ and ‘Clausura (closing)’.
The I-League and ISL could be treated as two different stages. Standards across the I-league would have to be raised though. This could also be the blueprint for a melding in the future. It certainly calls for more teams and a longer season. The J-League features 18 teams.
This makes a case for a non-merger of resources and teams given the current scenario.
What are your thoughts? Over to you.