FC Goa were chasing the ACL dream in the match number 85 of ISL in JRD TATA Complex when Jamshedpur FC hosted them. The Gaurs were inches away from topping the table and thus clinching that glorious honour of being the first ever Indian club to qualify for AFC’s premier club tournament – The AFC Champions League’s group stage. In the early 12th minute of that game, Boumous provided a beautiful assist to Coro who capitalised on the already ripped apart last line of Jamshedpur FC to make it 1-0 for Goa. They added 4 more goals later on and registered themselves as an Indian representation at ACL 2021. A history was created that night. Today we discuss on what all benefits can be reaped from participating in the annual club competition of AFC regularly.
- More games but Massive exposure
The difficulty is such that even the biggest name in AFC Cup from south Asia – Bengaluru FC have failed to beat a central/west Asian club at the AFC Cup, let alone ACL. Since India belong to the west zonal part of AFC, FC Goa will face even stronger clubs from West & Central Asia in ACL. After the 10 month long tournament’s structure was revamped to feature representations from top 6 to top 10 nations in each zone, we will likely see giants from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran taking on Indian clubs. A win seems unlikely, but a draw seems plausible which will be welcomed as a success along with the immense exposure Indian players will gain, which is unseen in the national team. Not 6 but 7 Indians will avail the benefit since the rule permits 4 foreigners in a line-up as opposed to ISL’s 5.
- A reality check on where our league stands
If it was Dempo and East Bengal who were the Indian Flag bearers at AFC Cup in the early 2010s, it was Bengaluru FC later who reached the pinnacle in 2016. All of which have contributed their part to India’s highest ranking of 14 in club competitions. But rankings won’t unveil about where we stand exactly among the other Asian counterparts, since we never got an opportunity to face them. But now we can, these games will tell us how good is our league and where will it be ranked. This will help other Asian leagues to get to know more about the Indian league, which is also our next point.
- Recognition of the league
The most important aspect of playing regularly is to get recognized among the other leagues in Asia. And to have Indian players getting signed by the top quality leagues which will benefit them in their personal development as a player and vice versa to help ISL clubs pick up good Asian players from the other leagues with inclusion of the Asian quota from the next season. With the handful of Thai national team players already playing in the J-League, Indians shouldn’t miss out on impressing the scouts while showcasing their performance in ACL and hence an opportunity to play in a bigger league.
- Consistency in the squad.
Consistency is the key, but be it Aizawl FC in 2018, Minerva Punjab and Chennaiyin in 2019 or Chennai city FC in 2020, all of them have failed to maintain their squad after a successful season of winning the title and gaining an entry to the continental showpiece. With ACL being the limelight of a tournament, Indian clubs will definitely go for extending the contracts of their exceptional foreigners and up to par Indians to achieve a respectable result and to make a mark of themselves on the Asian footballing map.
Excluding the above points, there might be plenty of other unknown factors as well which will benefit India’s league and its clubs’ structure. We can only encounter those by rubbing shoulders against the premier clubs regularly. India recently dropped to the 10th in west zonal club rankings and may soon drop out of ACL too. To avoid losing the precious ACL group stage slot, Indian clubs need to take the Asian club competitions seriously.