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The I-League clubs have demanded that they be allowed to field all their four foreigners simultaneously. Would such a rule change be beneficial for the game?...

Stirring up a hornet’s nest, the I-League clubs have demanded that they be allowed to field all four of their foreigners at the same time during games. Such a change of rule would actually bring the I-League in line with the other Asian leagues, where 4 foreigners can grace the playing field at one time, which is also the case in Asian Football Confederation (AFC) club competitions.

At the present moment, teams can have as many as four foreigners, of which one must be from the Asia-Oceania region, on their roster. However only three of them can take to the field at one go, and for the fourth to enter the fray, one of the three who is already on the pitch, needs to be substituted.

These rules came in force under Bob Houghton, when the cap on foreign players was cut down to four, with the Englishman concerned with the lack of opportunities given to Indian players.

That change had a big impact on club’s like Pune FC, who in their first season had finished third, having a set of 5 of the finest group of foreigners in Chika Wali, Edmar Figueira, Sergey Tokov, Arata Izumi and Douhou Pierre.

From the football team owners perspective, the present rule is extremely prohibitive financially, as firstly a highly paid foreign signing is left on the bench, irrespective of how much he could add to the team.

Secondly, in order to then strengthen their domestic options further, they have to pay an even bigger premium for average Indian talent, further inflating the market in an already loss-making industry.

Also the quality of football played in the league also improves, as the foreigners generally are more technically proficient, while the Indian players can only improve by playing against stronger opponents.

But what about the head coach of the national side and domestic players? Would they welcome such a move?

Would Koevermans prefer to see four foreigners starting in the I-League?

The answer obviously is a big no.

As seen by India’s striking options during the Nehru Cup, the cupboard is already rather bare, when it comes to good quality Indian talent. Behind Sunil Chhetri, the rest of the players used in a striker’s position, Manandeep Singh, Robin Singh, Francis Fernandes and Alwyn George in a cameo, had a sum total of zero International goals between them.

With generally three of the foreign recruits being used in the attacking areas, such a move would further curtail the limited opportunities available to Indian forwards, none of whom manage to enter double figures in the league last season.

Such a notion is given further weight by the fact that India’s most secure position is in between the sticks, where India has several good options available for selection, headed by Subrata Paul and Karanjit Singh. It is also the only area of the pitch where Indians enjoy almost complete monopoly, with Tae Yoon being the only foreign goalkeeper to be employed by an Indian club, United Sikkim this season.

Even in defense, the other area where the Indian side looked suspect, the best operators in the league are foreigners like Luciano Sobrosa and Uga Okpara, with the Indian players playing second fiddle to them.

So while the All India Football Federation (AIFF) needs to weigh up all these scenarios before making a decision, bringing the league in tune with other AFC members will not be a bad decision, which shall help improve the quality of football in the league. A better way to counter the above mentioned problems is by improving the grassroots program, which might help improve their technical proficiency and make them physically adept enough as well, to play against better foreigners. But when does that happen?

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