Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Indian Soccer League With New Ideas

For decades India's soccer teams and players have had to live in the shadow of the country's first sport cricket. Much like the USA where soccer is second, third and sometimes fourth best to other sports, the game has struggled to find a foothold in the world's second most populous country. However, new investors are looking to put India's soccer players and teams on the map with a new league.

Currently, the I-League is the premier division in the country boasting 14 teams playing a 26 game six month season (December to May); with the champion playing in the Asian Football Confederation's Champions League. But this top flight will have a new competitor in January 2012. Enter the launch of Premier League Soccer in India which will take cues from the country's top sport cricket and the world's top cricket league the IPL.

The inaugural season will be contested by six clubs from Kolkata, Howrah, Barasat, Asansol, Midnapore and Siliguri. The league will only play from January until March in an attempt to take fans from the existing league and wet the appetites of soccer fans in West Bengal followed by the entire country. So what will make this league so different than the current I-League? Similar to the I-League and other Asian countries (Japan, Korea, China) each team will be owned by a company and in some cases carry the company's name as part of the team's name. The differentiating aspects are money, talent based and most importantly to build a new soccer infrastructure and help develop India's soccer fans into domestic fans and players.

One of the biggest and possibly most ridiculous ideas regarding the new league is based around the players they hope to attract and the league's allocating of each player. Firstly, the league doesn't have plans to bring India's top players to the league. The likes on Sunil Chettri and Denzil Franco will not be sought out and paid large sums, at least not at the moment. Sources say, the league will look to develop talent and most importantly bring in professionals who in all opinions are past their prime. Names such as Denilson, who failed miserably as FC Dallas' first ever designated player, is rumored to be a signing; as well as the again retired Edgar Davids. It seems the powers that be are looking at over the hill stars in an attempt to ignite the flames of soccer passion in the country. This sounds a bit of a bad idea if you ask me, bringing in players in their mid-30s to early-40s. If any big name pro is to be attracted it sounds like a pure money grab by the player involved.

However, this is not the most interesting aspect of the league. The most interest part will be the yearly allocation of players which the new league will take from Indian's Premier Cricket League. At the beginning of each season each player will be placed in a lottery and auctioned off to the highest bidding team. A novel idea that seems to work in cricket, but could it work in the world's number one game? No player will be contract to a team for more than one season and will be able to move around the league if the money is right.

In a bid to develop soccer talent in the country the new league will only allow three overseas players plus one extra foreign player of Asia origin (like Korea's K-League), and each team must have a minimum number of players from the region the team is from. Also to enable the game to grow and players to develop only overseas managers, at the moment, with FIFA/UEFA licenses will be hired. All these ideas show the appropriate signs of a league wanting to develop quality homegrown players.

With the exporting of soccer from Europe reaching all corners of the world it is difficult for developing countries, such as India, to find a market within their own country. Currently, while living in South Korea I am seeing a slight boom in the domestic K-League 10 years after the country co-hosted the World Cup. There are already many who are talking about this new Indian league, and there will be a lot of interested over the next year. The true test will be if this league is still being talked about in five years, and whether or not the Indian National Team will become competitive in the Asian region.

***for more information on this topic please download the BBC's World Football podcast***

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