By Samindra Kunti
October 13 – The Indian Super League, the ISL, is shaking up Indian football as the league may usurp the I-League as the country’s principal competition as early as 2018.
Indian football remains dramatically underdeveloped, but the advent of the brimming ISL, in its third season now, looks set to galvanize the game on the subcontinent. The ISL is everything the I-League, established in 2007, is not: high profile, sexy and highly marketable.
The ISL franchises are owned by businessmen, crickets stars, European football clubs and Bollywood actors. Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires, and coaches Zico, Marco Materazzi and David James have helped to keep the ISL in the news. In recent days Materazzi claimed that his former teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic should come to the ISL.
The I-League is set to become the country’s second tier league, but clubs from the I-league have complained bitterly that IMG-Reliance, the commercial partner of the Indian FA, the AIFF, has neglected the promotion of the league. The 2015-16 I-League featured just nine teams after Pune, Bharat and Royal Wahingdoh all withdrew.
IMG-Reliance has been instrumental in driving the ISL forward. In the first season, the average attendance was over 24,000. In 2015, that number grew to 27,000.
The Indians constantly refer to the ISL as the fourth most-watched football league in the world. The league has attracted big brand backing with Hero taking the title sponsorship and with its increased profile and reach is well positioned to build on this.
Last season a thrilling final and late comeback crowned Chennaiyin champions against Zico’s Goa.
At the moment, Northeast United FC are top of the table of the 2016 ISL after 11 matches – the league plays its 56 fixtures running up to the play-offs on consecutive days. Kerala Blasters, with a big fan base and situated in what was once considered the power-house of the Indian game, have flopped again, getting team balance and selection wrong.
The 2016 ISL will culminate on December 18 with the final, but the debate about the future of Indian football will continue to rage. In August, the AIFF and the Asian Football Confederation, the AFC, set up a joint task force to address the future of the Indian game.
Contact the writer of this story at email@example.com