In recent times, many fans of Indian football have seen an inexplicable scenario where several regular members of the national team, like Subroto Pal and Rahim Nabi, have not been able to play club football as the clubs competing in the I League are not interested in signing them on. They have been saying that if the players get injured while playing the Indian Super League Football–an IPL style tournament being organized by IMG-Reliance–then their chances in the I League will be hampered to a significant extent. The question is, what will this league do for the footballers?
IMG-Reliance has already roped in former stars such as Dwight Yorke, Hernan Crespo, Fredrik Ljunberg and Robert Pires. It is being rumored that the organizers are also trying to get Michael Owen and Thierry Henry, among others, to play in the league. Most of the players who are going to play in this league are likely to see this as a golden opportunity to play alongside their heroes. They shall also be able to learn a lot of things watching these players in action. But perhaps that is the only benefit they will receive by taking part in the tournament, apart from the handsome salaries, of course.
To start with, these international players are already way past their prime and playing alongside them could actually be a double-edged sword for the Indian players – if they are unable to perform better than them than it will be a matter of great worry for all those concerned with Indian football; and even if they do better, won’t they be seen as having conquered a weak opposition? What purpose, then, will this league serve?
The league has already attracted prominent telecast partners in the form of Star Sports, as well as the likes of Marcel Desailly and Peter Schmeichel as managers for a couple of the franchises. In the days ahead, the AIFF and IMG-Reliance shall also be hyping this tournament up, which will lead to many people flocking the stadiums to see some former world-class footballers in action. This will benefit the organizers financially, but the players realize that they need to stay in shape in order to be considered for national duty, and that is where the I League comes in. The situation seems to be like the luxury-and-necessity conundrum.
What the organizers are trying to achieve is laudable – increasing the acceptability of Indian football for a generation that is hooked onto cricket and European football. This is the reason that some people are even comparing it to the IPL, but that is a wrong line of thought because the latter has players, who are on top of their game. This is why a lot of money is being poured into IPL. Now the question that comes up is, shouldn’t the focus have been on empowering the I League clubs instead of starting a league that can very well make them redundant, just like the Ranji teams have become now in the wake of the IPL?
The clubs look after the players and also create them. So it is natural if they feel peeved and threatened with such challenges coming their way, but perhaps they too should remember that the tournament will only run for a couple of months at most, and for the remainder of the year the die-hard fans of Indian football will have to watch the I League and Federation Cup, as well as the local leagues. So it is unlikely that their popularity will be affected much. There is also another possible explanation of the way the clubs are thinking – they may be worried that with the success of the league, more players will be lured to play for the league and thus their best efforts and hopes of getting these players on a more regular basis will be lost.
Perhaps it is in the best interests of Indian football that the clubs and IMG-Reliance come together and find out a compromise, like taking players on loan or financial compensation of some sort. Cooperation and not conflict should be the order of the day.