Mumbai: Is the All India Football Federation (AIFF) looking for an image makeover with the Indian Super League (ISL)? Does it honestly believe it will give a push to the sport in the country? The ISL appears to be a haven for yesteryears stars like Theiry Henry, Robbie Fowler and Raul Gonzalez, much as the Indian Premier League (IPL) was for former internationals in the first two editions. They may dazzle the spectators for a quarter of an hour or so. Is that enough for football to achieve the status the AIFF is seeking to give it?
Then there is the important question: If the ISL is seen as a panacea for all the ills of Indian football, what happens to the much-touted I-League which, as of now, is the only source of income for active footballers in the country?Can the country afford two premier leagues when the big-time I-League clubs have been a bit too enthusiastic about releasing players for the ISL? It is a different matter that the I-League has not covered itself in glory.
Curiously, the International Management Group (IMG)-Reliance, the commercial partners of the AIFF, have stakes in both the ISL and the I-League.To the credit of IMG-Reliance, it has been highly enterprising in promoting the ISL, unlike the I-League, since inking a Rs 700 crore (Rs 70 billion/$1.1 billion) deal for 15 years with the AIFF in 2010. This, despite AIFF president Praful Patel’s assurances that the I-League will remain India’s main pro league.
Surprisingly, four corporate-owned I-League clubs – Pune FC of pharmaceutical giant Piramal Group, Jindal-Steel’s Bengaluru FC, and teams of corporate houses Salgaocar and Dempo – have shown interest in owning ISL franchises.IMG-Reliance is trying to persuade East Bengal and Mohun Bagan to jointly bid for a team. Though the two Kolkata giants are still pondering over the proposal, another Kolkata club, Mohammedan Sporting, reportedly is also eager to own a franchise.