The Odisha FC president also spoke in favour of the promotion-relegation system.

Indian Super League (ISL) outfit Odisha FC appointed former Commercial Director of Watford, Raj Athwal, as their new President in the middle of last season. The club from Bhubaneswar had a season to forget, as they finished at the bottom of the table. They won only two of their 20 games in the league.

That said, Odisha FC will be hoping that the appointment of the new President along with the many changes they made in the off-season, will see a change in their fortunes in the upcoming campaign.

Recently, Athwal appeared as a special guest on Khel Now’s ‘Beyond The Scores’ podcast. He sat down with host Ashish Negi for a candid conversation. The President of Odisha FC brings with him vast experience from his involvement with many reputed clubs in England – and in the podcast, he mentioned the changes that should be made to improve the football standards in the country.

ISL doing a good job

Undoubtedly, the creation of the Indian Super League in 2014 has been a big boost for football in India. Raj Athwal spoke on the positive impact of the league and how it has been helping Indian football grow.

“I feel the ISL, it’s new, but what they have done is an excellent job. We can always improve – everybody can improve, but at least they have created a league and it has become competitive. From that competition, we are also starting to see new things evolve. The ISL, as a league, they are very, very proactive,” he said, before adding, “They are doing a lot of things behind the scenes which I can’t mention right now, that’s going to enhance the clubs and the supporters.

“So, from that angle, I think we have to be fair and conclude that the ISL are trying, and that they have come a long way from when they started just 7-8 years ago.”

Pre-season can’t be longer than season

One of the major points of criticism against the ISL is its duration. The league is too short for many people and they believe that it hampers the quality of footballers that India produces. The Odisha FC President also pointed out this fact while discussing the changes that should be made.

“You have to have a longer season than the pre-season. Your pre-season can’t be longer than your season. When players are off for six months at a time, that’s not helpful to anybody in footballing terms,” Raj Athwal said.

He further added, “I can only use the example of the UK or Europe. There, the season starts in August, it finishes early May and the players have maybe a month off, or six weeks off and on the first of July they are back on. Even during the off-season, they are monitored. So, when the players do come back they are pretty fit.”

Relegation and Promotion

Another key change that he suggested was to introduce the concept of promotion and relegation in the Indian football leagues.

“I am glad it wasn’t there last season, but I do feel relegation and promotion certainly adds to the excitement. Even if you are languishing near the bottom or near relegation, there is an excitement. If you’re at a mid-table position halfway through the season, you have no chance of the playoffs and the season can almost fizzle out. You are only playing for pride and the supporters, while they support their team, it almost feels like a non-event. But, if you’ve got the excitement that you can be dragged into relegation or you can be dragged into the playoffs, it keeps the momentum going in the league,” Raj Athwal concluded.

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