Since its inception, the Indian Super League (ISL) has adopted the marquee players rule which has mandated teams to sign one elite player every season. For the fourth edition though, the league has decided to do away with the mandatory marquee player rule.
Whether marquee players have achieved the desired impact over the past three seasons is another debate but the lack of them for the upcoming edition means that the onus will be on the domestic players to step up.
While marquee signings bring with them the glitz and hoopla, the ISL has always meant to be a platform to generate a developmental spurt in the quality of the Indian players on show.
The likes of Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet, Robert Pires, Roberto Carlos, Diego Forlan have graced the league over the years with their star presence while their performance has been a mixed bag,
The marquee players were always meant to be the supporting vehicle to boost the ship that is Indian football and while their performances might not have lived up to their names; their names definitely have brought added attention to the league.
The very idea of capping the number of foreign players in the starting XI of any team has been to promote domestic talent. When the league was launched amidst much fanfare, the line most harped on was that India’s footballers would benefit tremendously playing alongside the more technically nuanced foreigners. The critics would often claim that the league wasn't promoting enough Indian talent.
Three seasons later, the report card of Indian players in the league does not make for a kind reading. If we really look at players who have made a massive difference for their team in terms of winning titles, there have been a few scattered domestic names. The majority of players on show have been found wanting and for this, the league isn't to be blamed.
The emergence of Sandesh Jhinghan in the national limelight has been a welcome outcome of the league so far. So have been the performances of Jeje Lalpekhlua, C.K.Vineeth, Jerry Lalrinzuala and Arnab Mondal. You can event count Debjit Majumder for his heroics between the sticks for ATK last season.
That the number of notable Indian performers in three seasons so far can be counted on one’s fingertips shows that the Indian players haven't really made a telling difference to their teams on a consistent basis. There have been big money signings in the auction, draft or open market. But if you ask whether the clubs have got value for the amount they shelled out, on most occasions the answer would be in the negative.
The league has gone a step further this season in capping the maximum number of foreign players in the playing XI from six to five, giving greater scope for Indians to shine.
The concept of capping foreigners is akin to that implemented in the Indian Premier League (IPL). The IPL has gone a long way in augmenting the talent pool available to Indian cricket. For a similar impact to be made in ISL, you need the Indian players to step up and more importantly, do so on a consistent basis.
The ISL’s ultimate aim is to propel Indian football to reach unprecedented heights with Indian talent at the centre of it. While fans do enjoy seeing star names out in the middle, the satisfaction of watching an Indian player emerge a la Sandesh Jhinghan reigns supreme.
When the success of the league is evaluated over the years, the burgeoning of India’s talent pool will be the factor on which it will be largely judged on. ISL was launched to take Indian football to the next level, and with the lack of marquee players this time around, there has never been a greater need for the domestic pool to step up.
The onus is on the Indian players to perform as the ISL has provided them the platform. The ball is in their half after all.