A lot of Indian football “experts” lament about the fact that Indian fans, instead of following their own football league, like to follow the English Premier League.
In a month that the Premier League sold its Television rights for a record £3 billion deal, the difference between the two leagues couldn’t be more.
While the biggest source of income, which allows the English clubs to invest on wages for world class talent and infrastructure are these television rights, in India, a couple of seasons back there was no television broadcast at all!
And even last season, when selected matches were shown, the camera angles,and the overall packaging of the product was dull, and only a die-hard Indian football fan would on most occasions tune in to watch a match. Though you surely can't blame the broadcaster or the channel as the very fact that they are broadcasting is in itself a major contribution towards promoting the sport.
With next to no shows to help a newcomer understand what the league is all about, what were the chances of a "football fan" ever watching a match with even a passing interest?
Poor Packaging Means Fans Continue To Follow European Leagues Over The I-League....
Not to mention the fact that whatever little money was made from the telecast, not even a penny of it went to the financially stricken clubs of the league, with IMG-Reliance pocketing all the money, something unheard of in elite leagues across the world, where clubs get a huge share of the pie. However one can't fault IMG-Reliance for this as their deal is so structured thanks to the generosity of the few elite gentlemen comprising of the AIFF Executive Committee who agreed to the deal in the first place without any foresight.
Add to that the league doesn't even have a title sponsor, and in a nutshell you have the reason because of which clubs like Mahindra United and JCT have shut shop in recent times, while many others remain on the verge of oblivion.
With a couple of powerful clubs increasing the required expenditure to be competitive in the transfer market every season, you might soon see even more clubs close down with quite a few hinting of the same.
And why shouldn’t they? The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has failed in all its objectives behind setting up a league. While it often laments about clubs not fulfilling AFC norms, the I-League itself doesn’t pass the criteria, as it is not a professional, independent identity. Who is to blame for that apart from the AIFF itself?
With the Federation itself not showing any urgency towards the push for professionalism, why should clubs be expected to align themselves with the required norms? Especially when it would potentially see them spend even more money in the near future, with long-term plans uncertain?
Clubs Have Been Forced To Take Things In Their Own Hands...
With AIFF’s deal with IMG-Reliance seeing them sign off all the potential profits to the company, whose own promise of a “footballing revolution” in the country has not come anywhere close to fruition, the worst thing a corporate could do at the moment is start a football club, as there is no scope of clubs even breaking even in the coming future, as next to no commercial profits made by the league are expected to be passed on to the teams in the near future.
Add to that IMG-Reliance’s reluctance to come clean with the clubs, with a proposed plan for the future that they had planned for the league yet to be presented, one can understand why owners, in a bid to safeguard their own interests now sound mutinous and have formed their own body - I-League Professional Football Clubs Association (IPFCA).
Plus the lack of publicity and for the crores that sponsors or owners are expected to put into a club, they receive next to no return for their money.
Not only the football clubs, the league structure has also failed to do justice to the players. While salaries are at an all-time high, the talent pool has never been poorer.
The lack of any importance being given to the youth development programme, rampant malpractices like players hiding their age to participate in lower age groups mean that the cream in this case, has failed to rise to the top.
Not Enough Exposure For The Youth...
An U-20 league that lasts for a matter of a few weeks is a joke, a system under which no talent can ever prosper.
With the I-League division II being another joke, lasting for a little longer than a month and with several allegations of favouritism and poor ground conditions making the headlines each year, the technical proficiency amongst players is negligible.
Professionalism remains a distant dream.
So after 75 years, a bit of introspection might be due amongst the officials, as to where the game and its league is heading.