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ISL Vs I-League: The Future Of Indian Football Development

With more than 2 billion people, it is fair to say that India is among the world’s biggest footballing nation. The nation has been unable to mark themselves on the global scene for several reasons, but one of the main faults is the sloppy domestic Indian football organization within this vast Asian nation.

There are two major national soccer competitions in India, with one being the top tier and other the 2nd Division. The Indian Super League (ISL) just recently concluded its sixth season. From the beginning, it has been the carriers for Indian football, the unauthorized season that lasted just two months.

The organizations that govern football in Asia and around the globe are now officially recognised ISL as a league as each campaign usually occurs over a 6 months period, where the league competes for premium viewing with their most highly esteemed European countries.

However, the ISL is not the only show throughout the county. The competition is currently being conducted in tandem with the I-League, the only competitive league in India from 2007. Mohun Bagan is the latest I-League champion, however, it is difficult to contend against the systemic and economical strength of the ISL for the older.

The ISL is a highly commercial enterprise that draws larger profitability beyond and produces higher revenues. Although I-League clubs have small resources, they do have much better connections to the native community. The Two Kolkata teams, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have quite a long history.

The first domestic competitive competition in India was introduced in 1996 by the AIFF. Owing to weak facilities, lack of expertise and corruption in the ruling authority, the semi-professional NFL has just lasted 10 seasons.

In 2007 the NFL was redesigned to introduce the I-League. It was much more successful than its predecessor, but it could not attract mass interest in a cricket crazy nation. Zee Network TV broadcasts contributed significantly, but football quality remained unchanged and crowd numbers began to decline after a prolific first season.

In October 2010 the contract was terminated with Zee Network and two months later the AIFF signed a 15-year contract with IMG Reliance, amounting to £100 million. This agreement allowed the company to sponsor, advertise, broadcast and, most importantly, establish a completely new football league throughout the nation.

It was planned to set up a new nationwide franchise model league similar to the successful Indian Premier League (IPL) for the first 10 years, and a league with no promotion or relegation. Well before four-team playoff series determines the overall champions, each team has to play home and away against one another of the division.

In October 2014, the ISL was introduced under the rule of “one city, one club.” FIFA provided the green signal to the tournament, and clubs started to draw world stars to India: among those who took the leap, there were Alessandro Del Piero, Marco Materazzi and Robert Pires. Meanwhile homegrown local players have been loaned from their I-League parent teams to ISL teams.

Both I-League and ISL were played at various times throughout the year by the 2017/18 season: the first one was held from January to May, the second from October to December. India hosted the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in October 2017 and forced both competitions to compete between November and April.

The renowned Bengaluru FC, the former I-League club successfully joined ISL in 2017. Bengaluru is also the only team in the nation to reach the AFC Cup Final in 2015/16, the most successful Indian club of the past five years. Their decision to move to the ISL demonstrates their confidence in the future of Indian football.

Later, during the 2019-20 season, Asia’s oldest club in India, Mohun Bagan merged with Indian Super League outfit ATK to enter into the ISL. How can it be possible that when Mohun Bagan is joining ISL, East Bengal won’t join. Just after Mohun Bagan announced their entry into the ISL, fans of East Bengal demanded that their team must be in the ISL too. Though as of writing this, nothing has been confirmed about East Bengal’s entry into the top tier Indian football league as they are trying to solve a major issue.

Several northeast states have been famous for producing Indian football players in the past decade. A majority of the National team was formed by players from Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Mizoram, while Mizoram’s Shillong Lajong and Mizoram’s Aizawl have some of the country’s ardent supporters. The derby matches in the city still create diverse crowds and show that the I-League has a lot to do.

Indian football has been benefitted a lot after the introduction of ISL in 2014. One of the major of them is that, after ISL was introduced back in 2014, India’s FIFA ranking improved. A few months back India was even ranked 96 on the FIFA World Ranking.

The introduction of ISL saw an increase in TV viewership. More and more Indians started to follow Indian football, now not only Indians but also foreigners watch with very much interest. The first match in the ISL’s history between Atletico de Kolkata and Mumbai City FC drew a total of 75 million tv viewers. Overall, when the first season ended, it was reported that the ISL has drawn a total of 429 million viewers across India.

The creation of the ISL resulted in ISL clubs bringing in top-class world footballers. Football players who have represented teams such as Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona as a marquee player. Here’s a list of marquee players who joined ISL clubs for the opening season of ISL: Luis Garcia, Elano, Robert Pires, David James, David Trezeguet, Alessandro Del Piero and more.

Well if there are pros then there are cons too. ISL runs on a high financial system, and just because of this reason teams such as Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Punjab FC, and much more old community based are unable to join the ISL, which is now the top tier League of India. Each team’s who want to join the ISL will have to pay a hefty amount of fee to confirm their entry into the league. And because of this, earlier it was announced that Mohun Bagan would merge with ISL team ATK to enter into the ISL. While East Bengal has stated that they won’t merge but will join ISL when an investor decides to join the club.

And not having these community based clubs in ISL resulted in a loss of viewership recently.

Bengaluru FC is the only club that joined ISL by paying the franchise fee, and it was well spent by the team as they have already won the ISL once.

The future of Indian football has been pre-decided when last year AIFF and AFC prepared a roadmap of Indian football, under which when the 2024-25 season will start there will be promotion and relegation and mainly, there will only one main League with more division.

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