The eighth season of the Indian top flight has a lot in store for the fans to look forward to.
Since its inception in 2014, the Indian Super League (ISL) has put the country on the world football map. With the ISL 2021-22 season yet to begin, the top flight has garnered interest from local fans like never before, whipping up an unprecedented frenzy by pulling in stellar foreign players and managers.
We’ve seen some structural and functional changes to the league over the years and the next season is gearing up for some more new rules and regulations too.
We’re less than three months on from the conclusion of the rollicking 2020-21 season in the ISL. But, there’s already so much to look forward to in its next edition. Here are the five main reasons to get excited about ISL 2021-22:
5. Plenty of player movement already
The transfer window opened on 9th June and ISL clubs have already started preparations for next season in full swing. Infact, the transfer market is buzzing with player movement.
The biggest transfer so far has seen Amrinder Singh join ATK Mohun Bagan from Mumbai City, with whom he lifted the ISL title this year. But, there’s plenty more transfers to be excited about.
Attacker Liston Colaco has also joined the Mariners from Hyderabad FC, while Lalruatthara jumped ship from Kerala Blasters to Odisha FC. Bengaluru FC, meanwhile, have witnessed an exodus with four key players, including Rahul Bheke, parting ways with the club. He was their lone scorer in the 2018-19 final, which clinched the Blues their first and only ISL title so far.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. A lot more has transpired in the market and a lot is still to come. All the more reason to look forward to the ISL’s 2021/22 season.
4. More Indian players in the starting XI
In a bid to promote more local stars, the ISL recently increased the cap on Indian players in a starting lineup to seven, up from the previous six. This new guideline will see one spot less for the foreign stars, but still remains in accordance with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) regulations.
In the light of India’s recent performances in the World Cup Qualifiers, this is a welcome move. The ISL hasn’t helped transform the fortunes of the national side as much as it was touted to during its inaugural season in 2014. Back then, the playing composition saw only five domestic players in the XI.
But, there’s been a gradual increase in spots for Indian players ever since and the latest move is a positive step towards nurturing more local talents.
3. More young talents in squad
In another exciting new policy, Football Sports Development Limited, who run the ISL, have increased the minimum number of development signings from two to four. That means more up-and-coming talents will have the chance to make a mark in the Indian top flight.
Young guns like Asish Rai, Rahul KP, Akash Mishra and Jeakson Singh have been some of the beneficiaries of this regulation in the past. They all broke into senior teams as rising stars and made a good impression.
It was a testament to the growth of young Indian players. But, with more development signings on the cards, expect to see plenty of young talents coming to the fore next season.
2. Improvement in refereeing standards
The ISL, despite all its accomplishments, isn’t particularly known for its refereeing standards. The problem was more glaring in the 2020-21 season, when a few officiating mistakes left fans outraged and clamouring for better decision-making in the league.
For instance, Roy Krishna’s goal versus Odisha in December was disallowed for an apparent handball in the build-up by Manvir Singh. However, replays showed the ball had come off his hip instead and there was no handling of the ball.
A few months later, Kerala Blasters too were at the receiving end of poor refereeing. Gary Hooper saw a stunning volley disallowed because the referee believed the ball didn’t cross the line after hitting the underside of the bar, although other camera angles showed it clearly bounced over the line before coming back into play.
These are only a few examples, but clearly demonstrate the need to improve refereeing quality. With the AIFF now stepping in, ISL 2021-22 will hopefully introduce measures to iron out such blunders and ensure there’s less controversy.
1. ISL could pass COVID-19 challenge again
Although the league is still struggling to match the success of the Indian Premier League, the ISL managed to handle the pandemic concerns better than its cricketing counterpart. While the IPL has been moved to the UAE, the ISL went on with its program on Indian soil and came through relatively unscathed.
That was truly a remarkable achievement. The decision to play all the games in a single state behind closed doors instead of its usual multi-city format proved to be a masterstroke. Also, the organizers spent about 17 crore on tests and brought 26,000 N95 masks too.
So, even though the Indian Super League has a lot of ground to cover in terms of matching the IPL’s popularity and glamour, it led the way with a successful bio-secure bubble to beat the virus. More of the same can be expected in the ISL 2021-22.