The upcoming edition of the competition is set to be a path-breaker with the promising signings that have been made so far.
When the Indian Super League came into existence in 2014, a lot of fans that jumped ship were called renegades from the other section, primarily because it was a ‘private and closed’ league that was only good for marketing and was in for the moolah and not for doing any good to Indian football. Six years and several ups and downs later, the ISL stands as the premier league of Indian football, getting all three AFC slots to itself.
The three slots were given to the ISL only this season and there have been several other changes brought about by the administrators that will benefit Indian football in the long run.
Legacy clubs joining ISL
This brings a massive appeal to India’s top tier and with it, a global fanbase associated with the two clubs. More passion, more rivalries and in turn, more eyeballs. It is unfortunate that the ISL is likely to have no or partial crowds this season, or matches such as Mohun Bagan/East Bengal Vs Kerala Blasters would have broken some attendence records.
It also rests doubters that claimed ‘how can ISL be the top league without the top two clubs in India?’ The red carpet has been rolled out and the march towards a consolidated competition has begun. With a promotion/relegation system ahead, all teams would like to strengthen for the long-term.
Good quality foreign signings
Until last season, we saw the signing of Asamoah Gyan, infamous for his penalty miss in the 2010 World Cup. This season, however, no clubs have tried to sign marquee players that go by popularity and come only on retirement plans to India. All clubs have signed players with a proven record, effectiveness and to add to their mettle to the side.
Players like Igor Angulo and Steven Taylor will considerably improve the quality of the league and will help improve the players around them – not just with experience, but with equal level of training and technical competitiveness.
Clubs giving the future a chance
Several young players have been called up by their ISL clubs after Jeakson Singh and Amarjit Kiyam showcased their abilities in the league last season. This will only mean more competition and regular playing time for these budding talents, or at least a chance to share the dressing room with players with global exposure.
For example, if Givson Singh trains under Kerala Blasters head coach Kibu Vicuna, he’s set to grow in his role as a No. 10. This also allows Indian Arrows to free up more space and give up-and-coming U-17s more chance in the I-League. Several youngsters in the U-15 and U-16 category have also been signed by the ISL clubs, showing their commitment towards building for the future such as Lalhmingchhuanga signing for Bengaluru FC.
Indian players getting equal importance
The Sandesh Jhingan deal was celebrated by Mohun Bagan fans as much as any other player, signaling the dawn of a new era. Indian players are being sought after and are being paid a good price for. Devendra Murgaonkar has been making waves in the Goa Pro League for Salgaocar FC and FC Goa lapped him up for a reported 10 lacs.
Hyderabad FC have strengthened themselves significantly, with Subrata Paul the only Indian signing above the age of 30. In Konsham Chinglensana Singh, Akash Mishra and Rohit Danu, the club are clearly looking at the future. Signings of Albino Gomes and Nishu Kumar also suggest that Kerala Blasters aren’t looking at stopgap solutions from beyond the borders, but trusting in building long-term with Indian players.
Competition for national team spots
With more Indian players becoming regulars for their ISL sides, this will only add to competition for places in the national team roster. For example, one good season on the left wing for Rahul KP and who knows, he might be pushing for that extra spot in the team. Every position now has a youngster pushing and this will keep under-performing senior team players on their toes.
Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Narender Gehlot have already set the right example and India has enough talented players who are itching to walk the same path. Thus, all signs clearly suggest that the ISL will be different this year. With 11 teams, the season is set to be longer than ever before. More teams, more matches, more fans and more positives for Indian football.