Both the Asian leagues have caught the world’s attention in recent years but there are some stark differences between the two.

When you talk about the fastest growing football leagues in the world, far-flung from the rich and glamorous European and American leagues, the Indian Super League (ISL) and Chinese Super League (CSL) come to mind.

Both leagues have successfully roped in many top football stars from around the world over the years and continue to grow in influence in their respective countries at an exponential rate.

It has led to many drawing comparisons between the two. Here are the top five differences we found:

5. CSL has VAR, ISL doesn’t

Like many of its European counterparts, the Chinese Super League has long embraced Video Assistant Referees (VAR). The system entered into use in football with the 2018 World Cup and the CSL adopted it at around the same time. 

Even though VAR hasn’t been without its controversies, the Chinese FA has strived to improve the quality of refereeing further by introducing Hawk-Eye’s 3D Offside system too.

On the other hand, the Indian Super League doesn’t implement either of these technologies. It’s been a hot topic of discussion for some time now, with many glaring officiating errors making calls to introduce VAR grow louder. 

There are questions about whether the ISL can afford such an expensive technology right now, but given that it’s the future of the sport, the Indian top flight will have the introduction of VAR as one of their main targets in the coming seasons.

4. Salary cap

A salary cap is the maximum amount of money a team can spend on their players’ salaries which includes wages, bonuses, and signing-on fees. In the ISL, it was only $2.2m (₹ 16.5 crores) last year, reduced from $2.3m in the 2019-20 season. But, in the Chinese Super League it’s a staggering $95m!

The big-spending nature of the Chinese sides is an important reason why the league’s been able to attract top stars from around the world. However, there have been a few changes in the salary cap for foreign signings to promote more sustainable spending and push local players to the top. 

In comparison, the ISL is still a relatively young league, with many of its clubs incurring losses of $4-5m each season. So, a higher salary cap or no cap at all would risk financially weaker sides accumulating massive debt or going bankrupt.

3. Foreign players

Talking of foreign players, ISL teams can now have a total of six in the squad, with only four in the starting XI. That’s one less each in both cases from the rule practiced until now. The rationale behind this is placing more emphasis on the development of local players, something which the ISL has been touting since its inception.

In contrast, the CSL allows registration of only four international players in the squad, with a maximum of three in the first XI. 

2. League format

Another stark contrast between the Indian Super League and its Chinese counterpart is the very format of these leagues.

The ISL has all the eleven teams clubbed into one group for the first phase before the top four sides advance into the playoffs. 

Meanwhile, the CSL is divided into two groups of eight teams each. The top four sides from each group then advance to the last eight.

To make it more interesting, the Chinese top flight also employs playoffs, from eighth position to the third, to determine the final standings of the sides which lost out in the knockouts. A brilliant way to prolong the season and provide fans with more games to enjoy.

1. CSL has a youth league, ISL doesn’t

Since the inception of the CSL, the Chinese FA has required all the clubs to invest in youth development by having their own youth sides, which also have their own training ground, coaching facility, medical staff and so on.

However, the ISL doesn’t have such a grassroots program in place yet. However, it actively conducts youth workshops for young footballers, and there could be plans to kick-start a children’s league soon.

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