In spite of the countless flaws, the I-League often scripts a fascinating narrative. Where else would you find the defending champions battling relegation and a club that didn’t even exist nine months ago, being crowned champions?
But such has been the unpredictable nature of the ongoing season that Churchill Brothers and Bangalore FC find each other at the opposite ends of the spectrum. And between them is embodied everything that is wrong and right with Indian football.
In less than a year of existence, Bangalore have brought about a semblance of sanity in an otherwise chaotic and often depressing world of Indian football.
Owned by Jindal Steel, they took a plunge into Indian football at a time when it was at the crossroads. Rot had set in within the club structure owing to ruthless budget cuts and disinterested management. And the future of I-League itself was under a cloud due to the looming shadow of Indian Super League.
However, Bangalore bucked the trend and set the bar high by doing the little things right. India captain Sunil Chhetri, who has played for nine different teams in his decade-long career, pointed out that Bangalore is the most professionally-run club he has played for in India.
By that, he meant something as elementary as honouring players’ contract and providing decent training facilities. Packed stands were not an exception at Bangalore but a norm, with average attendance per match being around 7,500. Pune FC, formed six years ago, have been the only other club to lead the way as far as a professional set-up is concerned.
In stark contrast, the giants from Kolkata and Goa – the biggest football hubs in the country – continue to bask in their past glory without making any significant effort to get their house in order. A case in point here would be last season’s winners Churchill Brothers. Such is the state of affairs that their star foreign recruit, Christian Lagos of Costa Rica, abandoned the team mid-season due to non-payment of his dues. Such incidents are rife across clubs.
While not undermining their achievements on field, Bangalore’s real triumph lies in the way they have redefined the way a football club is run in the country. They have shown that an Indian club can be run in the manner football clubs are supposed to be run.
Mihir is a principal correspondent based in Mumbai