ISL 2017-18: Big spending no guarantee to success but being miserly isn't the right ploy either

Dimitar Berbatov Kerala Blasters FC Mumbai FC ISL season 4 2017/2018
The league table shows that spending wisely with a strategic vision trumps big expenditure...

We are almost at the half-way mark in the Indian Super League (ISL) and the points-table has started to take shape. Months of planning and considerable investments have gone into the building of the 10 squads in the league.  As we get a much clearer picture of the table, it is a time to reflect on the results of these strategies.

It is newcomers Bengaluru FC who sit atop the league-table in their maiden appearance. With the second highest net-spend among the 10 teams, it is not a surprise to see the Sunil Chhetri-led outfit shine so far. However, Bengaluru’s success can be attributed greatly in their endeavour to retain the core from its I-League days.

Spanish coach Albert Roca has been with the side since 2016 and coupled with the fact that the JSW-owned outfit managed to keep hold of 12 players in its transition to the ISL, Bengaluru’s run to the top of the table seems to be the fruit of some meticulous planning and implementation.

With the likes of Chhetri, Udanta Singh, Juanan Antonio and John Johnson being retained, Roca’s side have continued the good work they showed in the I-League and AFC Cup. Just below them in the table, Chennaiyin FC are also a testament to the virtues of continuity in the league with their 2017-18 squad comprising of as many as 10 players from last season. Having recruited many players with prior experience in the ISL, the Chennai outfit has displayed a similar strategy to that of their Bengaluru counterparts.

Despite being outspent by ATK, Mumbai City FC and Kerala Blasters, John Gregory’s men are reaping the rewards for their wise outlay prior to the start of the league while the big spenders find themselves in all sorts of trouble.

ATK have been the biggest spenders in the league this season and currently find themselves in the bottom-three of the table along with Delhi Dynamos FC and NorthEast United FC. The latter two sides are bearing the consequences of spending the least amount of money amongst the 10 teams and their position in the table is a direct reflection of their expenditure.

That the Kolkata outfit finds itself in their company half-way through is a sad indictment of money spent unwisely.

Ranko Popovic’s FC Pune City had a net-spend of just over half the budget of ATK but find themselves 10 points ahead of Teddy Sheringham’s men in the lofty third-spot.

The Pune outfit has relied on some astute tactical work from Popovic along with the capture of three proven overseas stars in the ISL – Marcelinho, Emiliano Alfaro and Marcos Tebar. The trio have established themselves as the vital cogs of Pune’s remarkable run so far which has seen them punching well above their weight. That they were previously integral to Delhi and the NorthEast is another blot on the two bottom-placed sides' investment strategies this season.

Kerala Blasters are the other big spenders this season whose results have not justified their enormous transfer outlays. The Kochi-based outfit’s struggles have culminated in the departure of Rene Meulensteen with David James returning to take charge of the side for the second time.

The signing of former Manchester United forward Dimitar Berbatov has failed to pay dividends so far with the Blasters yet to win on home soil. Both Berbatov and Robbie Keane were amongst the most expensive signings this season. That the former is yet to score a goal while the latter has only recently returned from an injury lay-off explains the predicament Kerala and ATK find themselves in.

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Alexandre Guimaraes’ Mumbai City currently occupies the fifth spot in the table, behind Chennaiyin, Pune and Goa - all sides which they have outspent. However, Mumbai are very much in contention for a spot in the play-offs and their home form is certainly one of the best in the league.

The shambolic seasons Delhi Dynamos and NorthEast United are experiencing serve as a cautionary tale for teams hoping to work wonders on a shoe-string budget but the travails of a misfiring ATK and Kerala Blasters show that big spending is no guarantee for success either.

The performances shown by Bengaluru, Chennaiyin, Pune and to a certain extent Jamshedpur FC show the big investments need to be backed up by a clear vision and solid strategy.