The current scenario in Indian football is strange for Indian Football fans. On one hand India’s head coach Igor Stimac has brought air of optimism for Indian Football with his brilliant selection of squad and attitude towards the game, on the other hand the Indian league is drowning into deep crisis due to tussle between FSDL and I league clubs. Officially I league is still the top tier league of India, but in reality it’s the ISL who enjoys that status. Both leagues are now running parallely and AFC/FIFA has a keen eye on the situation. A Nation cannot have two top tier leagues and AIFF have to make their call very soon. FSDL is reportedly pressuring AIFF to make the decision in favor of ISL soon. But simply degrading I league as 2nd tier league can land India is in big trouble. The trouble can be as serious as getting a ban from FIFA.
In such scenario the future of domestic league and clubs looks very grim. If ISL is made the top tier without incorporating the I league clubs, many I league 1st division and 2nd division clubs may decide to shut down their clubs and academy. If that happens, except big corporate and businessman, not many will have guts to start a football club in India. This will be essentially a nightmare for struggling and budding footballers. If I league is kept the first division like now, we will have a top tier possibly without coverage and biggest players of the nation playing in it. IF ISL and I league are merged than the league will be too lengthy for Indian market and it will fail to attract new audiences (In short it won’t be good for business). If few big clubs from I league are added to ISL and ISL is made top division officially, again small clubs will be shut down and discourage new investment in the lower divisions. Hence we can say that whatever decision AIFF may take, it will come with lots of cons. than the question comes, what is the solution? How to make the structure a win-win situation for every clubs (from biggest to the amateur) , for the audience, for the broadcasters, for the players and for the every stakeholders ? For sure the federation and the current think tanks in top of Indian Football do not have the solution. But we think, we might have one! And it would need a major restructure of the current structures.
But before going directly into the proposed structure, lets discuss what is best for the growth of the players, clubs and the footballing nation as a whole and then proceed to discuss what is best from the marketing perspective.
Best scenario for players, clubs and for a footballing Nation:
First need for footballing Nation is that, there needs to be lots of foootball going on in the country. For a country like India, at least hundreds of professionals/semi professionals’ football clubs needs be active and should be playing in different divisions.
The need for the struggling and budding footballers is that again there should be hundreds of clubs in India so that they do not need to fear of not getting a club to play in.
From the National team perspective, there needs be at least 20 top tier clubs in the Nations, where the Indian players are playing at least 30 matches per season hence increasing the talent pool, competitions and playing time of the players.
Now this was the ideal situation, but from marketing perspective, from broadcaster perspective and from the perspective of making the product attractive for general masses, here are the requisite.
The main league should not be longer than three months. (We have seen how ISL was widely popular during the initial years, when it was a smaller event.)
Indian audience, who are accustoms to IPL and crickets do not prefer long league based structure, where few match may not be competitive or a team may win the league by halfway of the season. Indian audience likes super competitive knock out style tournament.
The broadcasters also would like a format where every match is at high stake, knock outs matches coming in from very early stages and the league running not more than 3 months.
Now if we think generally, there cannot be point where all the stakeholders like players, clubs, audience and the broadcasters are happy. But the structure, which we are going to propose, can be a win win situation for all. But the structure will need a drastic restructuring and moving away from the traditional football league system.
The proposed Structure:
India is a huge country, with more than a billion populations. It’s bigger than the entire continent of South America by the population. Another country like us is China, who are investing billions of dollars in Football and following European structure, still they are not getting the proportionate success. The solutions must be something special and unique for India. If we think about our size and compare it with other countries, even the top tier league with 20 clubs will look small. Hence let’s not think India as just like another country but as a continent of many regions. We have seen that in our country state leagues runs well. Be it CFL, KPL, MPL or GPL, these leagues are running well. One reason of the success is that such leagues are localized and hence the running cost of the leagues decreases. If Kerala Premier league can be successfully run, than a league based on South India can also run successfully with 4/5 clubs participating from each states. Similarly if Mizoram premier league can be successfully organized, so a North East league. So what we propose is that we divide Indian Football leagues into region wise.
For example five regions to start with ca be:
South Indian League with 20 clubs.
North East League with 20 clubs.
East India league with 20 clubs
Central- west Indian League with 20 clubs
North Indian League with 10 clubs. (as there are less clubs in north currently)
This league can be played in proper league format or as tournaments, whichever is convenient. All the big and aspiring clubs of those regions will participate in it. In such regional league a player may get to play anything between 10 to 36 matches. Hence at least 80 clubs will be there for the players to join in. These leagues will not be telecasted in big channels like star sports but in regional channels. Now top six clubs from South, North-East, Central-west, East and North will be qualified to a Pan Indian UCL model tournament called Indian Champions League (ICL).
Indian Champions League:
Indian Champion League will be a tournament that will last for 3 months. This will be officially the top tier league of India. Total of 30 teams will participate in It. There will be group a stage match with six groups A,B,C,D,E,F with five teams in each groups. The five teams will play round robin matches in home away format. Top three clubs from each group and two best 4th place clubs will qualify to the next round which will be Second round. Second round will be divided into five groups with four clubs in each of it. It will follow the group stage format with Top clubs from each group and three best second best cubs qualifying to the quarter final round. In quarter final, draw will be made again with home-away format and team with better aggregate will be qualified to Semi final. From Semi final, the current ISL system can be followed. The winner of the final will be Winner of India and will be given playoff spot for AFC champion’s league. Another short tournament with winner of regional league can played to select the club which gets the AFC cup spot. So in this scenario, a club making into the finals of Indian Champions league will play total of 19 matches. The team which was eliminated in the group stage would play eight matches. So if we combine with Regional leagues, a player can get time of anything in between eighteen to fifty five which will be a great for the development of Indian players.
An easy explanation: Consider India as a Continent, Indian Champions League will be like UCL (UEFA Champions league), The regional leagues will be like Top Europeans leagues like Premier league, La liga etc and top clubs from those leagues will play in ICL. Now for example if Bengaluru FC wants to be India’s champions , they have to first compete in the South Indian League and remain in top six to qualify for Indian Champions League and win this tournament eventually.
Telecast: Only Indian Champions league will be telecasted Internationally. Since, the tournament will end in 3 months and will involve lots of eliminations and knock out stages, it will draw good TRP and viewership.
The regional league needs to start by mid August and must end by 1 st December. The Indian Champions League have to start by mid December and end by March end. The tournament for AFC cup spot will take place anytime before the ICL final and it not longer than three match day. Hence Indian Football season will last from August to March.
The tussle between ISL and I league will be solved with clubs from both the league will get chance to compete for the National Title.
Regional rivalry between club will increase. The National Rivalry will have more heat than ever.
Around 80 clubs will function in a division where even top clubs will play.
Players will get enough matches to improve themselves.
National team’s players can be selected from 80 clubs, there will a huge pool of players who will be noticed.
The format of Indian Champions league will suit the Indian Audience and it will be bigger success than the inaugural season of ISL itself.
Clubs who are currently playing in state league like Dempo or Mohammedan FC will have a shot to become National Champions.
The season can at times becomes extremely long for some clubs
We may not get chance to witness matches between rivals like KBFC vs ATK in some scenarios.
If popular club like KBFC or Kolkata giants get knocked out in the early stages of ICL, the tournament may lost some audience.
Since top league will be a knock out tournament. It would take some work from AIFF to convince AFC. But it’s easier than convincing parallel league or convincing them to allow relegating top tier teams.
Limitation: Since there is a condition signed by ISL teams which says they cannot be relegated, hence for first few years ISL team will be in ICL group stages no matter what their position in regional league is. The qualification process will be altered accordingly. So basically there will be 3 places to grab from south, three from central-west, four from east, five from North, and five from north east for non-ISL clubs to fight for ICL.
Key Observation: While ICL will be officially the first division, there won’t be National second division and it will be replaced by first division regional leagues, where even National first division clubs will play.
Here is the whole structure in rough
First division league : Winner is the India’s champion and will be given AFC champions league’s play off spot.
Indian Champions League (ICL)
Total Teams 30
Semi Finals (Round Robin in Home away basis)
Quarter final (Round Robin in Home away basis)
Second Round : Total 20 teams
(Five Groups — Four teams in each group—Topper of all groups and three best second placed team will qualified for quarter finals) (Round Robin in Home away basis)
Group stage : Total of 30 teams.
(Six groups — Five teams in each groups — Top three of each groups and two, fourth placed clubs will be qualified to second round ).
Super Cup: Winner will be awarded AFC cup qualifying round spot.
(To be played between 5 regional league winners in any convenient model.)
Regional League : This will act as qualifiers to ICL
There needs to be five Regional League at the beginning.
South, North-East, North, Central-West and East.
Top 6 clubs from each regional league will be awarded qualification to that year ICL.
Regional League- August-November
Indian Champions League- Mid December to March.
Super Cup- Anywhere in between.
What do you think? Is this model better than the current structure? Please give your opinion about practicality of this proposal in the comment section below.
Author : Manash Pratim DuttaContact : firstname.lastname@example.org