Asian Games, I-League clubs, FIFA dates pose challenges for ISL
The inaugural Indian Super League (ISL) is in danger of running into serious problems, the unavailability of top Indian players being the most disturbing for the high-flying organisers IMG-Reliance.
The organisers still have six months to overcome the issues and make sure that the two-month-long tournament does not end up as a dud show.
Some of the leading clubs as usual raised the banner of revolt, saying they can't release the players and the pro league dates are clashing with FIFA friendlies and also the Asian Games.
All three can disrupt the much touted eight city-based franchise football show, starting in September 19, more by accident than any sinister design.
If the tournament is hit by the unavailability of players, it can mar it. The top under-23 players may not be able to play the first half of the ISL as the dates are clashing with the Incheon Asian Games, also starting September 19.
The league rules make it mandatory for each club to recruit at least four under-23 players from the catchment area but all the top players will be busy with Asian Games preparations right from July.
The under-23 team will be busy with a series of training camps from July. The Indian team will have a conditioning camp in Bangalore before leaving for training in Marbella in southern Spain. Then team after a brief stay at home will fly out to South Korea well in advance to get acclimatised.
That means the ISL teams will be without top national under-23 players in their preparatory camps. Even if the teams recruit the under-23 players before India selectors pick the squad, they will not be training with them.
Worse, some top I-League clubs are acting pricey with the ISL. While Kolkata clubs East Bengal and Mohun Bagan may release players, but Goa's Sporting clue de Goa, Salgaocar and Churchill Brothers, Pune FC and newly crowned I-League champions Bengaluru FC are adamant against releasing players since they need to rest before the start of the new season in December.
Normally, the I-League kicks off late September, but this time it has been pushed to December to accommodate the ISL. The clubs' protective stand will rob the ISL of at least half-a-dozen India stars.
To make matters more difficult for the ISL, there are nine FIFA dates for friendlies in Septemeber-November and India coach Wim Koevermans is keen on playing as many matches as the All India Football Federation could arrange for. Playing these matches will mean garnering some crucial ranking points.
The ISL is confident that some solution could be found to everyone's satisfaction since the common interest is promotion of Indian football. It has to be seen who blibks first, the clubs or the ISL.
As it is, the process has delayed the ISL inordinately and it cannot afford to be pushed around any more. Eventually, it is for the AIFF to sort this out and how it does so is the big question.
(Abhishek Roy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 24-04-2014)