It is a sign of a maturing league when clubs see more value in relatively unknown players who are in their prime instead of splurging large amounts on ageing stars because they were good once upon a time. The Indian Super League — the country’s premier football competition, which began on Friday — is witnessing such a transformation. This season, players with experience of playing in the top two tiers of Spain, Britain, Germany and Australia, among others, have flocked to India — partly because of the pandemic-induced financial stress in those leagues and partly because of the ISL’s growing reputation. The clubs believe, and rightly so, that this is the best ensemble of foreign players to land on Indian soil.
But luring players to India is the easy bit. The time has now come to focus on bringing up local talent. The clubs will eventually have to build long-lasting systems to scout, develop and encourage Indian players, who struggle for playing time in their own league. They might not be duty-bound to do so. But legacies aren’t built merely by winning championships. Barcelona and Manchester United — or even Mumbai Indians in the IPL, for that matter — have become dynasties not just because they have won titles, but also because they unearthed gems and polished them through robust scouting and coaching mechanisms.
There is no doubt that foreign players raise the standard of the domestic league significantly. But to leave a tangible impact, the clubs will also have to design systems to identify and nurture Indian players, which will also be cost-effective in the long run. To make that happen, the clubs, the league and the All India Football Federation will have to work in sync. For, football might be global in nature but at a very basic level, it is a hyper-local sport.
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