ISL Integration : How To Do It Seamlessly
Xtra cheap headline publicity is going on with the draft of IMG-R's – ISL inclusion contract. I am 100% sure that none of the website journos got to read the document OR had they read it, it was understandably beyond their grasp. A statement – “the new company will have the responsibility of rebranding and redrafting sporting merchandise including jerseys” or something alike – is hence stated as “EastBengal’s colour will not remain Red and Gold”.
The motive is simple – controversy sells.
No business house is fool enough to dismantle existing equity unless they have grey cells working overtime.
Beyond what has surfaced thus far, there are far deeper issues that need resolution:
1. EB and MB MUST STAY PUT IN THEIR OWN GROUND: A Significant sum of money was spent in renewing East Bengal ground infrastructure. Further, efforts went into securing Army permission for installing artificial lights for the night games. Located in the heart of the City, this is a premium location and ideally, the infrastructure can be further developed to achieve AFC Standard. We MUST and should play all our games in OUR ground. Kolkata Maidan is dragged by some archaic legal provisions from British days and new sponsor will require resolving them with Army. With its clout, BCCI and CBI achieved the same for Eden Gardens. Football should be treated on equal footing. Provisions like mandatory Maidan closure OR allocation of ground for hockey etc. is simply outdated and calls for change.
2. EVERY PARTICIPANT & THE LEAGUE FORMAT MUST FULFILL AFC REQUIREMENTS: Our ultimate goal should be to compete in Continental competition. That means ISL and all its teams MUST comply with AFC guidelines. At present, most of the ISL franchisees are a PO Box address with no physical presence for better part of the year. EB, MB and BFC must give precondition that this need to change within next two years for all eight existing franchisees – (a) there must be a level playing field for all and (b) the playing field should be as per AFC guidelines and not whims of anyone in ISL.
a. It is very important that the youth development is continued and improved. That is the future. AFC guidelines mandate it and each franchisee must be made to follow it. Each one should have age group teams as per AFC guidelines
b. Financial clarity is a MUST, and each franchisee MUST declare their sources of fund and must have audited accounts as per AFC guidelines.
c. The foreigner quota MUST be as per AFC guidelines. For any good of Indian football, Indians must get play time and current 6+5 ISL format – (a) violates AFC guidelines and (b) deprives Indians of play time.
d. If AFC Qualification criteria demand “open league”, then the league must have relegation. If AFC allows an exception, then closed league is OK, but it takes away half the charm of a league
If this is not fulfilled, unification should be other way around. Parties willing to fulfil criteria should get “corporate ticket” for i-League and i-League should be made a 14-team affair.
3. AIFF MUST STEP IN AND DEFINE YEAR-LONG CALENDAR TO INCREASE SPREAD OF GAME: All teams must compete in regional leagues which remain the bedrock for scouting new talents. AIFF must step in a facilitate and firm up the football calendar, something in the line of:
a. Mid-May – July: Transfer and pre-season, as per international transfer window
b. Aug – mid-Sep: Regional / domestic league with a mandate for at least 3 U-22 players (full time) and max of 3 foreigners in each ISL playing team. [6 weeks]
c. Mid-Sep to Oct – 2 weeks break
d. Oct – Dec: ISL 1st Leg [all games on weekends for 11 weeks]
e. End Dec – early Jan – 3 weeks break
f. End Jan – 1ts week of Apr – ISL 2nd leg [all games on weekends for 11 weeks]
g. 10-day break
h. 3rd week of April to Mid-May (20 days) – Federation Cup (with at least 16 teams).
i. U-20 teams for these clubs must be mandated to take part in at least 2 domestic Cups – Durand and IFA Shield (or alike). These domestic tournaments must reach out and secure at least 2 youth teams from abroad so that Indian players get exposure.
IMG-R remains in charge of Marketing of the game and also remains coordinator of ISL. But, AIFF must revamp and define charter for the remainder of the calendar to promote the game and facilitate youth development.
4. SELECTION OF PARTNER COMPANY – This must be done with utmost care, as if the Business house is only profit-minded, efforts will fail. Anyone who comes in must be passionate about the game. TATA – if the news is to be believed, will be ideal partners. TFA has been the cradle of youth development and TATA has tirelessly worked towards development without limelight. The Corporate takeover will mean new management – and this management MUST be passionate about the game and the club. Otherwise, these grapes will turn sour very soon.
Unification is a dangerous and high-risk proposition – and will have long term implications.