What’s the reason behind the great A-League exodus to India?

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The A-League is the highest level of professional men’s soccer league in Australia. We have observed from the previous edition of the Indian Super League that top A-League players have chosen to play in the Indian Super League. The ISL is poaching some of the finest talents with Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix are the latest to jump ship.

Wellington Phoenix star striker and highest goal-scorer Roy Krishna and his striking partner David Williams signed for ATK last season, where Roy Krishna again showed his class-leading to his team the third title in Goa, where another Wellington team-mate Mandi Sosa joined in the winter transfer window. There were many players like Erik Paartalu, Bobo who came into ISL.

This season, all ISL clubs have started to take players from A-League, and its been a hub of picking players, as Hooper joins Kerala Blasters, Tratt joining Odisha FC, Bradden Inman joining ATK Mohun Bagan FC, Joel Chianese joining Hyderabad FC, Robbie Fowler – Liverpool legend and former head coach of Brisbane Roar is rumored to join the debutants East Bengal FC along with two of his best students from Brisbane Roar. 

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Admittedly, it’s mainly mid-tier A-League talent leaving for India presently, but once upon a time only mid-tier A-League talent left for China. The league Sepp Blatter called “the sleeping giant” of world football took only a few weeks after its inception to leapfrog Serie A and become the fourth most popular football league in the world and is recording a growth of up to 41% each year.

The ISL now plays host to a far bigger collection of foreign stars than the A-League, with a cursory glance over the competition’s current imports revealing a namedropper’s wet dream of former Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A stalwarts.

The ISL’s general strategy has always been to provide a retirement cash injection for aging stars, who have already played in Asian leagues like the Chinese Super League or A-League and are now seeking to end their careers with a (financial) bang. India was almost always the third, and final, rung on the ladder.

Here are some of the reasons why A-League players are coming into the Indian Super League:- 

  1. Clubs cut player wages by 50% as A-League war escalates:- The A-League wage war has reached its extreme with the majority of the 12 club chiefs withholding 50% salaries to force players to accept reduced.
  2. Due to tighter purse strings and increased competition in the global football marketplace, the ISL’s financial clout (and they have a lot of money) is now proving far more appealing to a wider range of quality players at younger ages than ever before.
  3. Due to Fox Sports’ decision to renege on their A-League broadcasting arrangement, now the A-League faces a bigger threat from India than ever before. Only Australia’s biggest clubs – in our most alluring markets – can currently compete with ISL sides.
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Goalkeeper coach, Dejan “Danny” Milosevic, of Perth Glory FC, a former Australian U-20, U-23 international, recently took some of his time to pour his insights on ISL, Australian football and some of the A-League players in an interview with IFTWC.

Milosevic said, “Post Covid-19 there has been a major drop in TV revenue here and subsequently the salary cap has been significantly reduced. The knock on effect has seen player salaries reduce significantly and therefore players have opted to look abroad for playing options.

“The timing of the league ending here and with India soon to start has been a major attraction for players in Australia. The players out of contract were keen to play football as soon as possible and not wait due to the uncertainty currently in Australia.”

With so many players opting to play in India, the ISL is perceived really well in Australia, he said, “ISL is held in very good regards due to the fact that there is a large representation of players who previously played in A-League and now call India home. Krishna, Paartalu, Williams, Dimas and now many others.”

When asked if ISL clubs seem like reaching the same wage levels as of A-League and if there is any significant difference in them, he said, “I am not certain about the wage difference between the leagues. I don’t know whether there is a salary cap in ISL. I know that the respective Indian leagues have been expanding significantly which would mean there is a greater scope to expand the game on not only a playing/coaching level but a financial one as well. Australia is also expanding at a slower rate to assist with the long term sustainability and viability of the game on a whole.”

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Milosevic expressed his thoughts on some of the previous Perth Glory players who’ve moved to ISL for this season, he said, “Joel (Chianese) has a very good pace, has the ability to cause defenders big problems with his change of pace and (he) can score goals.

“Jacob (Tratt) can score headers from offensive set pieces, corners and wide free kicks. (He) Plays in various positions across the backline and can be versatile for the team. He likes to be physical with his opponent.”

The ISL’s clear roadmap and expansion plans are starting to overshadow the Australian structure. While the ISL aims to introduce promotion from 2024-25 onwards, the Football Federation of Australia Chairman Chris Nikou does not see such implementation anytime before 2034. The ISL was accorded top-flight status by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) last year and the winners are now guaranteed a direct group stage spot in the Asian Champions League, a first.

Already assured to spend less this coming season, A-League owners will struggle to hold the talent they want and need. More and more players may well seek new opportunities in India, a place where the competition continues to earn greater respect as each season rolls by.

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