The Indian Super League (ISL) has got two new entrants for the upcoming season with the big news being the entry of two-time I-League champions Bengaluru FC into the fold. The JSW Steel-owned outfit bid for a new franchise based out of Bengaluru after the ISL invited fresh bids for new teams.
Bengaluru FC's decision to enter the ISL is seen as a vindication of ISL's direction and superior appeal. The Southern Eagles' Chief Technical Officer (CTO) Mandar Tamhane spoke exclusively to Goal, outlining why the team decided to make the foray into ISL.
Here are the excerpts from the interview where he outlines the team's aims for the upcoming season:
Q. Why is BFC taking the plunge into the ISL?
MT: We were a part of I-League in the first four years because we wanted to represent the country in Asia if we won the league and that was obviously possible only with the I-League.
Now with ISL also offering the winners the opportunity to be a part of the AFC Cup or representing the country in Asia, it makes more sense for us to be a part of that (ISL) because we all know the kind of marketing that has gone around the ISL. It (the marketing) will always be at a level higher than what it is in the I-League.
Moreover, over the period of three years, even the ISL has evolved. In terms of the league, (ISL) going to be of a longer duration. We believe that matches will not be played everyday (there won't be a cramped schedule) but over the weekend and possibly some mid-week games. The number of foreigners is also coming down, the number of Indian players in the starting eleven are going to be more. So it is an evolution in terms of the ISL also.
Again, by being a part of continental competition, our spend is going to be more. The quality of players coming in is also going to be high. And then an Indian club probably being more successful on a more regular basis in Asia is something which will help Indian football going forward. Our owners always said that we want to try and make a difference wherever possible to Indian football.
So once this longer league happens, obviously the players are not going to be playing in both the leagues. The players will be only concentrating on one league and in that case you will have proper time to study your national team's calendar, which in the longer run will definitely help the Indian team.
Q. Why is this a right time to be a part of the ISL?
MT: This is a period where the ISL is evolving. At the same time, the slot of an ISL team getting to be a part of Asia is also happening now.
Q. In terms of the financial aspect, did it take a lot of convincing for Bengaluru FC to be a part of the ISL?
MT: Our management is very much aware what the football scene in India is. Although the initial spend is going to be more as compared to the I-League, there is a central revenue which comes which is not the case in the I-League. Obviously, in an overall scenario, our spend will definitely be higher than the I-League, but the kind of marketing and visibility that the JSW Group will get is something that the owners are comfortable with and that is the reason why everything fits in our thought process.
Indian football is getting the right structure in terms of the national team and we are getting a chance to be a part of Asia, not to mention the visibility to our group (JSW Group).
Q. Do Bengaluru FC have an advantage by having already been a part of the I-League and having played in the AFC Cup final?
MT: It's more of a disadvantage, to be honest with you. What we believe in the past four years with Bengaluru FC playing in the I-League, our strength was our Indian players and we were always able to retain about 70 to 75 per cent of our Indian players season after season. So this, with the new rules coming in with regard to the (player) draft, etc. - obviously it has not yet been confirmed - but if it happens, we will be at a massive loss in terms of maintaining our core team.
Most of our players including Sunil (Chhetri), Rino (Anto), Eugene (Eugeneson Lyndoh), Amrinder (Singh) have been a part of Bengaluru FC from more or less since our first or second year. For us, that is our identity. We know for sure that we will not be able to retain all these players, but that is something that is going to be more of a challenge for us and I am pretty sure that we will be able to find our way through and try and have a competitive team in the ISL also.
Q. Are you looking for a partnership with a Bollywood or Cricket celebrity or a partnership with some European club like how some other ISL clubs have done?
MT: We have not yet discussed anything on those lines but, more or less, we are happy how we, as a club, have functioned over the past four years. We would probably be looking to continue in the same manner, but this is something that we haven't discussed in detail on.
Q. What is your vision for the ISL? Having won a title in each season so far in the club's existence, looking forward to winning the ISL in the first year?
MT: We'll be looking to do that 100 per cent. If we had started the club in the first year of the ISL, I would have said no. I would have said that we need to set the base properly and try and see that the base is strong to build upon. Now that we have won something or the other in every year for the past four years, that's a habit that we have developed and we will try to do whatever we can possibly do.
We have the AFC Cup 2017 to look forward to, then we have the ISL coming up, and we also have the AFC Cup 2018. So it's going to be a busy season for us. Hopefully we are going to do well in all the three competitions that we are going to be taking part in.