After the highly successful and equally controversial Indian Premier League (IPL), we have had the same format copied for other sports like Hockey, Badminton, Chess (not started yet though). Now is the time for the biggest and most widely watched sport (Soccer) to adapt the format in India. It’s time for Indian Super League (ISL). Plan is to have an bidding process for clubs sometime in the 1st half of next year and have a 3 month annual event from September to November with 8 city based teams.
This endeavour appears to be one of the most ambitious one. IPL, provided the execution was perfect, was anyways going to be a success as it had two key ingredients needed make a mark in India – Cricket and Bollywood (Read: entertainment). Other sports league have found it difficult to succeed the way IPL did.
Will Indian Super League be an exception to this trend?
India has a significant number of soccer followers. There are innumerable fans of soccer clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona and Real Madrid. So much so that many of the mentioned clubs have either planned or started soccer schools in various cities in India. Moreover India is the 2nd most populous country and having a new sporting venture directly opens up a huge market. Also, this will open up an international market since there are plans to involve top soccer stars and managers as part of the venture. We are talking billions here if they succeed.
Aspects to benefit from ISL: Indian Super League will have some very clear benefits for soccer in India. Following are some of them –
- Local players benefit – Ask Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri if they would love to play alongside Henry and Pires and they will never object. Bhutia and Chhetri are both national players and have led India. Now imagine what the local city players think of such a proposition. Never even in their dreams would they have imagined sharing the dugout with world class championship players! This is their opportunity.
- Better Infrastructure – World class players will need world class stadiums to play. They won’t play on rough surfaces and that’s where the Indian stadiums will improve. Expect greener pastures in the near future.
- India on the soccer map – Soccer fans from across the world will be watching the league as it contains some of the top players. Fans of Henry (like yours truly) and Pires will have an eye on the league. Same can be said of top managers coming in the league. Soccer world will start perceiving India differently if this league succeed.
Hurdles in front of ISL: Venture won’t be a cake walk or a bed of roses for the organizers (IMG and Reliance). There will be many hurdles, some critical in terms of positioning and some tactical. They are –
- Something other than Cricket and Bollywood – Cricket and Bollywood sells in India. And when they mixed, IPL was formed. Anything other than this formula has struggled. Take Badminton and Hockey for examples. Nothing succeeded like IPL. And that’s the mountain ISL has to climb. Soccer could be the 2nd most watched sport in India, but it’s a distant 2nd to Cricket.
- A rather confused fan following – It’s great to have top players like Henry and Pires gracing the Indian stadiums scoring goals. But why would a Manchester United fan support a team headed by Henry? Henry has been an Arsenal player for the better part of his career and will remain an Arsenal legend. Arsenal and Manchester United have been bitter rivals in the English Premier League. Will I follow a team having Michael Owen? No.
- Soccer is more of a team game than one man show – An IPL game result can change by a blitzkrieg innings by a batsman. In that respect, one player has the power to change the game. Unfortunately, the same thing hardly happens in Soccer. Moreover, synergy is paramount in Soccer. Top players usually succeed because they have a top team to fall back on. You need clear understanding of what your team-mates are planning and be at the right place at the right time to score. Will this happen with unknown players coming together is where I have my reservations.