Goal.com's Amoy Ghoshal delves into what football's IPL could do to the sport in West Bengal and maybe eventually on a nationwide basis.Last week the IFA (Indian Football Association), governing body of football in West Bengal, launched the Premier League Soccer (PLS). Referred to as football’s version of IPL, PLS has been introduced by the IFA in order to increase the popularity of the beautiful game in the state and with glamour also attached to it, finally there could be a non-cricketing sporting competition in India that involves huge amounts of money.
Each franchiser, with a minimum net worth of 22000 USD, will own a team with the franchisees expected to take care of the development of infrastructure in their respective zones (Kolkata, Howrah, Asansol, Burdwan, Midnapore and Siliguri).
Former World Cuppers like Edgar Davids and Junichi Inamoto are expected to be taking part as players along with several other foreign players from MLS, Brazilian, K and J Leagues. Each team will be headed by an overseas coach with FIFA/UEFA A License and a proven track record.
The main promoters for the event, Celebrity Management Group, have already revealed that many investors are showing interest.
So even though the IFA states that youth development is one of the motives of this project, PLS aims more at popularizing football and ensuring high commercial profits, which certainly wasn’t the case for the IFA through the Kolkata League or any other competition that it organized.
Money, Money & Even More Money!
With I-League players ineligible for the local leagues from next season, the IFA had to come up with a plan b and looking at the potential of this event, it could not only make IFA richer but also revolutionize Indian football on a whole.
Currently football in our country lacks glamour so an event like the PLS can change that and even though it will only be restricted to West Bengal, depending on the success of the whole idea maybe other state bodies will also get encouraged and follow on IFA’s footsteps, thus ultimately making it a national event.
But concerns do remain regarding the overall success of PLS because of various reasons. Firstly doubts remain whether all the regions will have the requisite infrastructure ready on time.
Secondly the event is going to take place from February to May 2012, when I-League and AFC Cup matches will be going on.
Will Infrastructure Be Ready On Time?
So PLS won’t be having the very best footballers in the country on show instead with huge amounts of money involved in the whole event, it could actually tempt some regular I-League players to join the PLS and not bother about the premier domestic competition in the country.
Another concern can be the fact that Kolkata already has three big clubs, with many of their fans coming from the rural areas of the state. So those fans may maintain their loyalty towards their favourite club and choose not to be a fan of any franchise even if it is from their local region.
But if we delve further into the effects of the PLS, some of the above concerns and negative aspects which I mentioned can actually act as healthy competition and eventually help in changing the face of football in West Bengal and even all over India.
Like if all the regions do have the necessary infrastructure in place it would eventually help football in Bengal as there would be more proper stadiums to train and host matches.
Bengal Set For Better Facilities?
The PLS will be telecasted on a regional channel across Bengal and the prospect of its popularity will surely be a wakeup call for the AIFF to make the I-League far more attractive than it has been this season.
People outside West Bengal have hardly got to watch any I-League match this term but now with PLS set to provide competition, the Indian FA and title sponsors Reliance IMG will surely work harder to ensure that proper television coverage of the I-League is guaranteed next season.
PLS will also provide the platform for several Indian players, who hardly get a chance to play in the I-League. Also many of the players who are nearing the end of their careers and are unlikely to get good contracts at I-League clubs, will get the opportunity to play regular football again.
Since it’s mandatory for each team to include at least one U-21 and a local player from their region, even the youngsters of the various regions will come into the spotlight.
The biggest positive outcome of the whole PLS concept is that it will definitely raise the profile of the beautiful game in West Bengal. Presence of former World Cup stars in the various teams and the expected celebrity attachment to each franchise will ensure plenty of media coverage of the whole event.
More Female Football Fans
Females would also start taking interest, something which is rarely seen even in matches of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in Kolkata. That aspect could be vital considering its the mothers in Bengali homes who discourage their kids the most from taking football as a profession so with the entry of PLS, that mentality could change.
All the concerns on whether diehard East Bengal and Mohun Bagan fans would actively take interest in the event or not are not really that serious.
Being a Bengali living in Kolkata myself, I have seen even passionate EB and MB supporters becoming hardcore fans of Kolkata’s IPL franchise team. Even the Bengali media gives more coverage to the IPL team instead of the two biggest football clubs in the city.
The reason is the glamour and hype that surrounds the IPL and the PLS also has the potential to attract the people in West Bengal for similar reasons.
Much Needed Glamour
Overall, the freshness, glamour and money that PLS will bring, is definitely going to give football in West Bengal a new life and eventually it could encourage other state associations to follow the same route.
But all that depends on the success of PLS in Bengal, about which question marks still remain until we see how season one pans out.