Marco Materazzi has started his coaching career with the new Indian Super League, as a player-coach for Chennaiyin FC. His team includes players like the brasilian Elano and another ex-Inter (and Man Utd) player Mikael Silvestre. The ISL starts this week.
Considering there are some people of Indian origin here, here is my take on what is happening in India.
ISL is a new venture, basically an attempt to make football popular in India, and find an alternative to cricket in terms of TV viewership and sponsorship. They have copied some success factors from EPL, MLS and the hugely financially successful cricket IPL. The idea is to create a competition that catches the imagination of the Indian fans, by launching clubs with foreign stars and top Indian talent via a MLS style draft system. This league has attracted millions of pounds worth of investment, the TV production is targeted to be of "EPL quality". The 8 club "franchises" have been sold, attracting investment from glamorous Movie stars, cricketers, and even European clubs like Atletico Madrid and Fiorentina. The intentions are good all good, but some of the implementation is questionable.
The main problem comes from the Short Format: The brains behind this have decided that they can only catch the imagination of the Indian public for 2 months. So just 8 teams. This has led to many issues:
1. This competition is separate from the I-League, the actual Indian football top division. While they finally managed to force the traditional clubs to release their best Indian players for ISL, this only adds to the already cramped calendar for these players.
2. A 2 month competition means that this league cannot attract any foreign player who still values his career. Hence all the "stars" signed so far are either out of contract, or looking for retirement, sometimes both.
The good news is that they have managed to attract some stars (or famous ex-players) like Del Piero, Trezeguat, Luis Garcia, Capdevila, David James, etc and coaches like Zico & Colomba. So there is something to be excited about...
That is the problem with this gimmicky 2 month "unofficial league", it just doesn't excite the existing fans of the game. Lack of proper format makes one doubt the seriousness of this competition. It can only attract retired or out of contract foreign players, and has condemned itself to being like a "friendly", meaningless trophy. A waste of so much money and effort, which could have been so much better utilised to expand and improve the I-League, where we have clubs with history and an existing fanbase. Historic clubs like Mohan Bagan and East Bengal (both from Kolkata) attract over 100,000 fans into the stadium for the big games in I-League, will these fans really shift their alliances to Atletico de Kolkata so quickly, and only for 2 months? For example, if FIGC start a new tournament in Italy with new clubs including one new franchise from Milan, will the fans of Inter and Milan start supporting this new team?
Yes, it is harder and more time consuming to market a season long tournament, I get that. But its a proven and sustainable format all over the world, and that success (once it comes) will have a lasting impact. They could have added new franchises to the I-League, maybe even added a shorter version Cup format which is more marketable in the short term... all that money into the I-League could have really helped the sport in the long run, as clubs could then afford to buy better foreign talent. And invest in youth academies. So much was possible. Like the J-League showed us.
But no, instead we have a new conflicting format which raises more questions than it answers... what happens next season if some I-League clubs refuse to loan out their players to ISL clubs? And what happens to Indian players, who are already playing way too many games in hot conditions, when they have to fit in the ISL games into their already cramped schedule? What about the development of football in India, will ISL clubs invest in youth academies?
Even if all the media hype does help make football more popular in India, does ISL help or damage Indian football?
Some of the big names involved in ISL include:
Robert Pires (FC Goa)
Fredrik Ljungberg (Mumbai City FC)
Nicholas Anelka (Mumbai City FC)
Luis GarcŪa (Atlťtico de Kolkata)
Del Piero (Delhi)
David James (Kerala)
Joan Capdevila (NorthEast United)
Mikael Silvestre (Chennaiyin)
Marco Materazzi (Chennaiyin)
David Trezeguet (FC Pune City)
Katsouranis (FC Pune City)
Zico (Goa ) - Manager
Peter Reid (Mumbai) - Manager
Colomba (Pune) - Manager
European clubs have also invested in ISL, with Fiorentina owning 15% of FC Pune City, Atletico Madrid owning part of Atletico de Kolkata, and Feyenoord have partnered with Delhi Dynamos FC.
For all my doubts, this league will certainly bring a lot of local media attention to football for the first time. I hope that creates a ripple to awake football's "sleeping giant". Exciting times.