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ISL charts foreign course

In an effort to make the league a success, organisers allow franchisees to field six foreigners in starting XI.

Written by Mihir Vasavda | Mumbai |
Updated: July 23, 2014 11:33:42 am
(L to R) Mumbai team consultant Nishant Mehra, internationals Syed Rahim Nabi and Subrata Paul at the inaugural ISL players’ draft in Mumbai (L to R) Mumbai team consultant Nishant Mehra, internationals Syed Rahim Nabi and Subrata Paul at the inaugural ISL players’ draft in Mumbai

One of the biggest headaches that the team management faces before an Indian Premier League (IPL) match is the selection of four foreign players in the starting XI.

Even the Hockey India League (HIL) and the less glamorous I-League teams face a similar predicament. After spending millions on an international player, they are forced to use him judiciously to ensure Indian players get enough playing time.

The Indian Super League (ISL) franchisees, though, will not have to scratch their heads over the team composition. To ensure the quality of matches remains high, the teams will be allowed to field more foreign players than their Indian counterparts in the starting eleven. The organisers have allowed the ISL franchises to field a maximum of six foreign players in the starting XI, acknowledging they will be the ‘spine of the team.’

Or, maybe, the tournament itself. For all the glitz and glamour it has promised, the organisers have conceded that the success of the ISL will largely depend on the quality of football the teams will dish out. After all, the abysmal standard of the I-League is one of the key reasons that keeps the spectators away from the Indian game.

Not surprisingly, IMG’s global football vice-president Andy Knee said it was a ‘conscious decision’ to have more foreigners in the starting XI than the Indian players. “Our aim is to create football which sports fans will enjoy. Five Indians and six foreign players was about finding the balance. We have got seven international players to bring in quality and raise the professionalism,” Knee said.

It’s a decision that might attract some ire and Knee realizes that. At a time when leagues across the world are focusing on honing local talent, chances of IMG-Reliance facing flak over the move are high. Even the IPL allows just four foreigners in the starting line-up while only five international players can be on fielded at any given point during a match in the HIL.

But Knee insisted this was done keeping in mind the best interests of Indian football. “ISL is about Indian players as there are 14 Indians in the squad. The foreign players and coaches will have a positive impact on the Indians. Will we always have five players in the starting XI? We don’t know, but we have to promote and make stars out of them and at the same time bring in top players — foreign ones,” he said.

The franchises, meanwhile, were apprehensive over the quality of international players. They said they are still in the dark over the foreigners who will feature in the draft next month and will form the crux of the team.

“We have given a good indication of the players we are looking at — players who have played in good leagues in Europe and South America. We are looking at the spine of the team — goalkeeper, central midfield and strikers,” Knee said. “We understand that clubs want all the players on board immediately for their identity. However, the reality of the transfer window is that it doesn’t end until August 31. The longer you wait the better players you get in the market.”

BFC, Pune on board

Meanwhile, Bangalore FC and Pune FC — the two I-League clubs who had staunchly opposed the ISL — have decided to be a part of the tournament. Pune FC have joined hands with Salman Khan and Wadhawan Group to run the Pune franchise. Two key club officials, including head of operations Chirag Tanna, assisted the team in the domestic players’ draft.

Bangalore FC have tied up with the Sun Group for the Bangalore franchise. The team’s CEO Mustafa Ghouse said they’ll provide technical assistance but won’t release any player for the tournament in the inaugural edition. India captain Sunil Chhetri won’t be a part of the ISL as he wasn’t given green light by the Bangalore FC management.

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