The Indian Super League (ISL), backed by Asia's richest man Mukesh Ambani, is making all the noises - right or wrong. The ambitious league has brought Indian fans closer to some of the biggest stars, albeit fading ones, but also given home-grown talents a much-needed professionally-run league. (More Football News)
According to a Reuters report, a storm could be brewing in India's top-flight football, with its financial future at stake. It reported that a recent dispute between Ambani's camp and the All India Football Association (AIFF) illustrated differing visions over the direction of the game, whose national team is ranked 108th globally.
The ISL, owned and run by Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), whose chair is Mukesh's wife Nita, has managed to become the top league in the Indian football system, reducing the AIFF-run I- League in the second rung. And ISL has got the blessings of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Besides the money, the ISL also has the clout that any Indian establishment needed - the celebrities.
So, there wasn't much to discuss. AFC is the game's governing body in Asia. They agree to Reliance's 'Let's Football' slogan. But this structural reform left many wondering who really calls the shot in Indian football - FSDL or AIFF. The national federation may technically govern the sport in the country, but the ISL operates with its own regulations. Its target is to market India as a preferred destination for football talents from around the world, yes, while also helping Indian players reach global standards.
Now as it turned out, the national team's head coach Igor Stimac is not happy with the happy with more foreign players featuring in a match in Indian Super League, and of course I-League. He argued that so many foreign recruits in Indian leagues could hold back the development of home-grown players. When Kushal Das, AIFF general secretary, wrote to FSDL CEO Martin Bain to share the concern, as reported by Reuters, the dismissal was swift.
"Contrary to the position in your email, all competition regulations rather need approval from FSDL," Bain responded.
This sure highlighted the fissures between the two bodies and has further widened the great divide in Indian football.
In fact, Ranjit Bajaj, whose helped Minerva Punjab won the I-League in their second season to become the national champions, claimed that the Ambanis' basically own the game in India.
"This is a hostile takeover if there ever was one. They basically own football,” said Bajaj. "It's really sad."
To make matters worse for the traditional establishments and the AIFF, one of India's greatest clubs, Mohun Bagan have already migrated to ISL thanks to a merger with ATK. Bagan's traditional rivals, East Bengal are exploring avenues to join the ISL bandwagon.
Without two of its biggest clubs, I-league is effectively reduced to a mere league. And it may never rise to challenge the ISL. It is a clear signal who owns the game in India.