The common perception among the majority that money is directly proportional to success was gleefully torn apart by a thrilling Chennai City FC on Thursday in Bhubaneshwar, as they knocked out Indian Super League (ISL) outfit Bengaluru FC.
The 2-1 result dumped the regning Super Cup champions out but the narrative that grabbed headlines was the fact that the I-League champions had just defeated the ISL winners.
One can't even make an argument like last year where ISL sides had played under-strength sides. Bengaluru were at full strength while Chennai City missed a couple of key players, especially defensive lynchpin Roberto Eslava. They played with just four overseas players but still churned out a big win.
Bengaluru's star players just could not make an impact against a Chennai City side which was put together on a limited budget.
Though the I-League is "officially" the top-tier league (at least as things stand currently), it is no secret that ISL clubs have bigger budgets and bigger stars at their disposal and are generally considered to be better than their I-League counterparts.
But Chennai City FC have just sowed seeds of doubt in the minds of those who subscribe to that line of thought.
This is not the Coimbatore-based team's first ISL scalp. They outclassed FC Pune City in the previous round 4-2 before ending Bengaluru's bid to complete a domestic double. It just makes you wonder how much of a difference there is between I-League and ISL teams?
The ISL teams have foreign stars on their payrolls on massive contracts like Miku, Edu Garcia, Dimas Delgado, Marcelinho while I-League clubs have their share of foreigners, but on smaller contracts. The salary of the overseas players in both the leagues might not be comparable but their skills and ability is, judging by what has been going on in the Super Cup.
Pedro Manzi, from humble Chennai City FC, is without doubt the best forward (25 goals this season) in the country right now, comfortably outperforming the likes of Miku and FC Goa's Ferran Corominas. While you could say that he pumped in goals only in the I-League, the way ripped apart the famed Bengaluru defence for the second goal on Wednesday underpins the fact that he would fare equally well in the ISL as well. FC Pune City defence will also stand testament to that fact, having seen him pump a hat-trick past them.
Don't be surprised to see an ISL team offer big money for Manzi before the next season. But trust the likes of Chennai City FC to unearth the next Manzi, judging by how they have replaced their best players so far.
Now, when you take the case of Indian players, I-League clubs like Chennai City FC have lost their best players to ISL every season but they continue to unveil new stars. Michael Soosairaj and Sinivasan Pandiyan left Chennai City last season for fatter paychecks. In place, they now have the likes of Alexander Romario and Regin Michael and more stars waiting in the pipelines.
Which makes you wonder what if the ISL teams are just overspending? Are they getting their money's worth while investing heavily into the squad? They might have a budget cap of INR 18 crores per season but is it necessary for them to spend the entire money available?
The top spenders in ISL have always been among those who reach the ISL play-offs, with exceptions of course. FC Pune City, Bengaluru FC, FC Goa are all heavy spenders over the seasons. So, there is no questioning the fact that money has given these teams success in the ISL. But when these teams play top I-League sides, they tend to struggle.
All that the ornamental spending by the ISL sides is doing is helping them win a competition among themselves. When it comes to bridging or increasing the quality difference among themselves and teams from other leagues, the money is not doing enough!
Bengaluru FC CEO Parth Jindal had claimed recently that ISL sides are losing money. Perhaps, they should take a leaf out of Chennai City's books?
Chennai City might have broken away from the I-League clubs' alliance and opted to play the Super Cup. But their performance could well have done a lot to enhance the I-League's reputation and contribute to the alliance's cause.