ISL all set to be No1

Su­per League ready to take over from I-League

World Soccer - - Sporting Gijon Valencia Villarreal -

he In­dian Su­per League (ISL) kicked off at the start of Oc­to­ber ahead of a dra­matic shake-up that will see it usurp the I-League as the coun­try’s main com­pe­ti­tion, per­haps as early as 2018. In May, the All In­dia Football Fed­er­a­tion (AIFF) un­veiled plans to add two more sides to the eight­team ISL, which will then be­come a na­tional top flight with no rel­e­ga­tion to the I-League, which will be­come the sec­ond tier. And while the AIFF’s vi­sion has not been uni­ver­sally ac­claimed, there is lit­tle doubt that the I-League, which was es­tab­lished in 2007, is strug­gling with at­ten­dances as low as its pro­file.

I-League clubs com­plain that IMG-Re­liance, the AIFF’s com­mer­cial part­ner, have not done enough to pro­mote their com­pe­ti­tion. But while that is a mat­ter for de­bate, what is not is that IMG-Re­liance have been a ma­jor driv­ing force be­hind the ISL.

The ISL has ev­ery­thing that its older brother does not, with its eight fran­chises owned by in­trigu­ing com­bi­na­tions of busi­ness­men, cricket stars, Euro­pean football clubs and Bol­ly­wood ac­tors. And while that ini­tially put the com­pe­ti­tion in the news, the ar­rival ahead of the big kick-off of play­ers such as Alessan­dro Del Piero and Robert Pires, and coaches Zico, Marco Mat­er­azzi and David James, helped to keep it there.

The av­er­age at­ten­dance that first sea­son was over 24,000 and grew to more than 27,000 in 2015. The In­dian me­dia never tires of re­fer­ring to it as the fourth most-watched football league in the world.

Orig­i­nally, the ISL was touted as a com­pli­men­tary com­pe­ti­tion that the I-League would sup­ply with play­ers dur­ing in its close sea­son. As well as in­creas­ing earn­ings for the play­ers, the ISL was sup­posed to help im­prove the fa­cil­i­ties for all – some­thing that has held the do­mes­tic football scene back over the years.

Yet, with its av­er­age at­ten­dance more than five times higher than that of the I-League, the ISL al­ways had a chance of be­com­ing num­ber one. The I-League may have historic clubs such as Kolkata gi­ants East Ben­gal and Mo­hun Ba­gan – whose derby can at­tract 100,000 fans – but even they strug­gle to com­pete with the stars of Delhi Dy­namos and Mum­bai City.

To make mat­ters worse, the 2015-16 I-League fea­tured just nine teams af­ter three with­drew. Pune and Bharat cited a lack of long-term vi­sion, with Royal Wahing­doh fol­low­ing suit in what was a ma­jor blow and helped smooth the way for the AIFF’s pro­posal.

Fans of the ISL won’t care too much as they

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