Both European coaches as well as players have come to Indian shores and have tasted success.
When you want to achieve something revolutionary, you learn from the best. Indian Football has managed to receive revival along these same lines with both the ISL and I-League hoarding upon foreign talent from the football-rich countries of the world, majorly European countries like Spain and Portugal. Gone are the days when physicality and brute strength where priorities in a manager’s team sheet and in what is a welcome change, teams have begun to focus on technical and tactical supremacy rather than opt for a physical edge. Chennai City’s title-winning campaign stands as a testament to that school of thought.
Akbar Nawas’ side clinched the championship riding on the efforts and hard work of three Spaniards, Pedro Manzi, Nestor Gordillo, and Sandro Rodriguez. Manzi was a key figure in this set-up as the 30-year-old went on to win the Player of the Season award also. Even the second placed team, East Benagl , who missed out by a single point, had a very good mix of Spanish talent in the form of Jaime Santos, Toni Dovale and Borja Gomez.
However, in all the remaining teams followed, one could evidently see the age-old maxim adopted by the I-League teams since its inception; hoarding the squad with physically tough players with little importance given to the tactical side of the beautiful game. Such a one-dimensional approach had done nothing to improve the quality of football in India and the adoption of a new system by the likes of Chennai City and East Bengal have become a welcome and much-needed change in the football set-up of the country.
Here lies the interesting fact. What the I-League realises now, has been followed by the Indian Super League ever since its inception. Let’s take a look at the two sides that made the final. Both have Spaniards at the helm managing the team with majority of the foreign players coming from Spain or having played a majority of their careers in Spain. And it is also not surprising to see the improvement in quality of the Indians in the side. This season has been a revolutionary one for the likes of Rahul Bheke, Udanta Singh, Nishu Kumar and Harmanjot Khabra of Bengaluru and Jackichand Singh, Seriton Fernandes and Brandon Fernandes of FC Goa. And it is not just the finalists that have exhibited such a developmental curve. All the teams within the ISL framework have a resolute structure based on European talent.
Fellow Portuguese Jorge Costa and Dutch strategist Eelco Schattorie have structured a very tactical oriented side that emphasises the footballing ability of the players within the system. The latter has been instrumental in giving the likes of Rowlin Borges the freedom to exploit and play in his box-to-box role while under Costa’s tutelage defenders of the Mumbai City side, like Subhashish Bose, have flourished to a great extent, so much so that the Portuguese plays three Indian defenders compared to the standard norm of two.
With a healthy mix of talented and focussed coaches, Indian Super League has been a key component in raising the quality of football within the country. FC Goa’s playing style has brought something similar to the lines of tiki-taka to India, while Bengaluru’s free-flowing style has created many admirers of the game. This is something that the Indian Super League has been doing right. That is to preserve and improve the quality of the game within the nation. With Chennai City’s victory this season, it is not far-fetched to assume that the I-League will also slowly shift its focus to the European lands rather than relying on physical players from Africa.
The rise of Indian Arrows could be the ultimate sign of changing times. The young side has been a resurgent force this season proving their mettle against the toughest teams in the league. They even dispatched ISL side Kerala Blasters comfortably in the Super Cup, holding a light to the fact that the football in the country is heading toward the right direction.
With such an influx of talent from the top footballing nations, Indian football looks likely to go from strength to strength. The immense exposure is rewarding to gifted and talented players and is key for them to embrace the nature of their game. Bengaluru’s dominance in the Indian sphere stands as evidence for that. The leagues should focus on the current project and aim to improve every facet possible especially when it is plainly evident that European influence can help achieve success.