Sunando Dhar, CEO of the I-League, is another in the line of several critics who doubt that the Premier League Soccer (PLS) conceptualized by the Celebrity Management Group (CMG) and organised by the Indian Football Association (IFA) – the association for football in West Bengal, would last in the long run.
PLS has already made several heads turn across the globe with the kind of money splashing around which has seen some of the ‘has been’ stars coming out of retirement to be a part of it.
“I don’t think it is a commercially viable product. In fact I have doubts whether it would go into its third year too. It’s something like an ICL (Indian Cricket League) concept but not exactly a rebel league. The league shall have ex-international stars and the Indian players - no one knows about them,” said Dhar.
Crespo And Who Else?
“Apart from the marquee or ICON players, I did see the other set of foreign players and I couldn’t recognize any one of them; which means that apart from these four-to-five ICON players, the rest are not that high profile. This league will then be based on marketing around these four-to-five stars,” he added.
He did appreciate the fact in the manner in which the organizers have managed to get the coverage from members of the media worldwide.
“They have done a good PR activity which can be seen the good response from the media, something which we can learn from. The first year they might get sponsors but in a long term project like this, you need something more. The only positive for the AIFF is that a lot of non-I-League players will be brought to limelight.”
The auctions saw an odd trend wherein Barasat (Rs.25.12 crore) fetched more than double the money the franchise paid for Kolkata (Rs.11.5 crore), which is the capital of West Bengal.
“The major reason lies in where the Kolkata franchise has been taken in for far less money than a Barasat. I think that says it all. Probably the franchise owners realized that they would have to compete with the likes of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and hence chose a safer option in other districts.”
Dhar explained as to why he is “skeptical” on the whole PLS affair and gave substantial reasons for the same with history and infrastructure being the two major points.
“We should not just copy and paste the IPL model of cricket into football. With all due respect to cricket, there is a difference between cricket and football. Here the clubs have a culture which is more than a century old. Even if you have a celebrity promote a particular football team in Kolkata, it won’t have the same kind of attachment that a Mohun Bagan, East Bengal or for that matter, even a Mohammedan Sporting would generate. “
“Yes, the fans shall turn up for the first one-or-two matches to see the Cannavaros and Crespos. But football is a team game and one man can’t run the show. What about the back-up players? According to me, the best 200 odd Indian players play in the I-League and they shall not participate in PLS. So now where do we get the rest of the Indian players from?”
One of the primary issues which concerns Indian football in general is the utter lack of infrastructure so much so that the Indian technical director Rob Baan claimed that his village had a few decent pitches than the ones available in the country.
“These star players are used to playing in the best stadiums. Let’s face it – Salt Lake isn’t too good and nor is Barasat, which has been kept as a back-up for I-League matches in Kolkata. All the four I-League teams from Kolkata have refused to play at Barasat and that tells the story.”
“Moreover logistically speaking, West Bengal has airports in two cities - Kolkata and Siliguri. I do not know how the teams are to travel, whether by bus or a train, but that does pose a problem.”
A couple of years back Praful Patel, the president of the AIFF, had spoken of a franchise-based system to be introduced in the I-League and that the authorities had granted a direct entry into the nation’s top division, if a new team manages to fulfill the required criterion set by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the I-League department.
Dhar acknowledged that plans are being worked upon along the same lines however that won’t be at the cost of existing clubs.
Football Isn't Cricket, Guys!
“Franchise system shall work but we just can’t blindly follow what happens in cricket. We just can’t ignore the presence of the teams. Maybe we shall bring them in from cities where there are not so many teams in the I-League. It could be a Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai or Hyderabad as these cities have a strong corporate presence but not many strong teams.”
“In our contract with IMG-Reliance, there is a mention of a new league. For them, it was easier in cricket as you had the best of foreign talent available. You can’t expect a Messi, Ronaldo or a Rooney to play here. So you either raise the standard of the present league not just quality-wise but promotional, sponsorship and marketing to make it more commercially viable to introduce a new concept.”
“Or you start a new franchise-based system with some former international stars. But the question is would we get the right value for the franchise in the current scenario? In that case, it makes sense to upgrade the current league,” Dhar signed off.
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