IMG-Reliance rushed ISL too early – Bhaichung Bhutia

The former India skipper acknowledged that the second postponement of the much talked about ISL did affect several players with some losing their berth in the national squad...

IMG-Reliance chose to postpone the proposed two-month IPL-style tournament named Indian Super League (ISL) just a couple of months before it was slated to kick-off. Several IMG-Reliance’s contracted players haven’t participated in the top tier division this season as a result.

Bhaichung Bhutia, president of the Football Players Association of India (FPAI) and chairman of the technical committee of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), shared his thoughts on the effects of ISL’s deferment and what IMG-Reliance ought to do for the successful execution of the same. Excerpts from the exclusive interview to Goal on the sidelines of Nike MUPC U-15 finals held in Pune:

Goal: You have mentioned about Sandesh Jhingan being one of the best Indian talent around. But the fact of the matter is that the defender struggled to get into an I-League club this season, thanks to him having signed for IMG-Reliance. As president of FPAI, what do you have to say on the issues the players had to face with ISL’s postponement for the second time?

BB: I think IMG-Reliance really rushed it too early. I think they need to get some good advice, good consultant people to think about it. Without anything, I do not know how they got the date of doing it in January 2014 and then at the last moment after signing all the players, they pull it out. So I think they need proper people to really sit and guide; just not people who will only look at…They need people who can look at the ground level realities who are working with the players, know the players’ problem as well. Apart from that, they need to have all sorts of people in the committee to advice them. I don’t know where they came up with a date of January and if they did come up with a date of January. If you are ready about January then you need to make sure that it happens in January. I’m sure they had a committee who advised them that January is right. Once you have said ‘January’ and then suddenly in November-December you say ‘we can’t do it and postpone’, it affects a lot of players.

'IMG-Reliance needs to think beyond finance and money'

So I think another reason why I’m saying they need to have right kind of people in terms of the rules, the dates so that people not just marking at the top level but everybody is there and it gets right. Once you select it, you also have got to make sure that you do it. I think that’s where it really affects. Then you are playing with a player’s career in terms of a lot of the players got dropped from the national team because IMG-Reliance. Entire season some of the players did not get any tournament thinking they will be playing IMG-Reliance thing. So it does put a negative thought towards the player. So once you decide something so big and then not decide to do it. Obviously it was a big financial loss for Reliance and others – that is always. But apart from finance, a lot of the players didn’t get to play and that really affected.

I think they need to have a proper committee set up if they are thinking of doing it and just not look at the money numbers. At the end of the day, obviously finance and business models are important but Reliance, beyond finance and the money, also need to look at more real things.

Goal: It is difficult to attract investors for Indian football. You have experienced it yourself with United Sikkim how tedious it is. With IMG-Reliance deciding to postpone their ISL project for the second time, how must it have affected the potential investors?

BB: Investment I don’t think it affects as they already have investors ready and they will get as well. At the end of the day, it is not just about investors. When you shift and people sign with you trusting that there is a tournament that is going to happen in January (2014) and then it does not happen, then it definitely does shake confidence of the player with regards to the tournament. That is why when you are taking decisions, whoever is taking them at IMG-Reliance and if you are looking at a date that this date we do it. I’m sure when they took the date of January they must have consulted the federation and the sponsorers. Then once you have the final date, you should not try and change it.

'FPAI had suggested that January 2014 was too early for ISL'

From Players Association (FPAI) when we met IMG-Reliance, we always suggested that January was too early, too soon. Please don’t do it, give it a longer time. Announce it now and when you have to do it one year later so that the players are ready. A lot of the players have two or three year contract. It is very unfair to a lot of players who could be playing in the tournament when they have already signed with (clubs). So if you announce now and say you do it after two years or one year, then the players know and are ready for it. So if they are offered another two or three year’s contract, they can think that we can negotiate after the IMG-Reliance thing comes up.

So we had suggested that the tournament in January is too early and maybe you will have to re-think on the date of January. And at the end of the day, that’s what happened. We would have had a lot of good players not playing in the IMG-Reliance thing if it would have happened in January. We would have missed out on players like Sunil Chhetri or Robin Singh not playing. It’s very important that some of the biggest players of Indian football has to play in this tournament.

Same as the players in IMG-Reliance will have to play the I-League. And the I-League clubs have to also open up their mind and not just think of their own but think also quite openly that let the players play. IMG-Reliance are quite open in letting the players play in the I-League but I-League clubs just don’t want any of them to come and play which is not right of the clubs as well. They can negotiate on the financial aspect but make sure that the players get to play.

Goal: So IMG-Reliance didn’t have things in place before they announced the ISL? Were they not ready after working on it, so to say for three years?

BB: I was more disappointed when the dates got changed because not obviously for myself but it affected a lot of the players. They would have played the January tournament and from November (2013), the training would have happened. Then after March, they would get to clubs and play. But since the postponement, a lot of the players didn’t get to play like Sanju Pradhan, Nirmal Chettri. It was a setback. When they fix on a date, they shouldn’t just fix it but must do all the research and say ‘Ok now we will do in September and not change it.’

'IMG-Reliance need some good advice'

Goal: So you are suggesting that the research was not done?

BB: If it was done, then why did they shift from January?

Goal: Will it be a setback for the ISL?

BB: I don’t think it will be a setback but now that they have said September, they should not shift it. Then the players would lose a lot of confidence in the tournament.

Goal: Do you think IMG-Reliance must have more sporting personalities advising them. Did they approach you as FPAI president?

BB: We have not been hired as consultants for sure. We just had one meeting with them regarding it.

Goal: But do you opine that they need to go for people who understand the sport in India?

BB: Absolutely.

Goal: Someone like you or as experienced as your good-self?

BB: It can be anybody but it must be someone who can help them.


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