The new structure of the league will ensure it fits into the AFC criterion for continental competitions.

The quest to awaken the sleeping giant of Indian football continues to gather pace. After a series of developments in the second half of 2019,  Football Sports Development Limited, the promoters of the ISL are set to make more far-reaching changes to the structure of the country’s new top flight.

Sources in the know have told Khel Now that the promoters are planning to introduce a new model for the Indian Super League. The ISL is likely to follow in the footsteps of the A-League, wherein teams will play 27 games each starting from the 2020-21 season. This is to ensure that the competition fulfills the AFC’s criteria for the minimum number of games required to be played in the top leagues of member associations.

The Format

As per the new model, the 10 teams of the ISL will play 27 games each across the entire season. This means teams will face each other thrice, thus bidding goodbye to the traditional home-away fixtures.

Out of the 10 teams, five will enjoy the advantage of playing two home games and one away game against each opponent. Further, in the following season (2021-22), the other five teams will get the chance to play at home twice against the same opposition.

Additionally, most games will now be played over three days every week, from Friday to Sunday. The schedule will also comprise of a significant number of double-headers.

In a further development, it is learnt that the annual domestic cup competition the Super Cup will now be played in two stages. The group phase will take place before the start of the ISL season, while the knockout stages will succeed it.

AFC Criteria

Let’s take look at why a new structure is necessary. As per the AFC guidelines, a team, in order to qualify for the AFC Champions League (ACL), is required to play a minimum of 27 league games per season. At the end of the campaign, the winner of the league stages will then qualify for the group stages of the ACL.

But, with just 10 teams, competitions like the A-League and ISL, naturally, cannot meet this criteria with just home-away fixtures. This is why this model is in the works.

Interestingly, the league leaders of the ISL will get the ACL group stage spot, but only for this season. This is because, the AFC has allowed the AIFF a season’s time to reorganize the structure of the ISL, following its recent ratification of a comprehensive roadmap. Thus, from the 2020-21 term, the ISL mandated to follow the 27-game league structure if they are to attain the ACL group stage spot.

Benefits

The restructuring of the ISL will definitely be a big step in the bid to further develop Indian football. With this move, the ISL will finally have a concrete model that will further boost its growth. Needless to say, this structure will also increase the number of gameweeks and therefore the longevity of the campaign as a whole.

With a longer season, the domestic players stand a chance of getting more game-time. More game-time means more improvement, which will further act as a bonus for the national team.