A tournament that brought Indian football to meet global standards with an incredible exposure for the players; different styles of play and a reach out to a massive fan following in and beyond the domestic arena, Indian Super League (ISL) has come to be one of the most sought-after tourneys in the country in a long time now.
Given the scenario, the expectations too have risen from what the league can achieve on the field and not only the common masses, but even the celebrities, the league authorities, the head coaches and the players themselves are all looking at taking the game to an even more spectacular level.
As India moves towards an endearing football revolution that will leave imprints in the history of world sports, more and more seasoned players are joining the ISL bandwagon and are also successfully taking it beyond the set standards.
However, the “ISL is not an easy tournament” as the arguably high-profile Uruguayan player, Diego Forlan has rightly pointed it out. Why, you may ask? Well, here are some factors that play a key role in what goes on behind-the-scenes and how the players overcome the tough decisions:
How important is fitness?
One of the key factors behind what makes ISL a challenging competition is the fitness and agility of the players. A place where as many as 14 games are played in a short span of two months, a fit squad is primary to the occasion. Unfortunately, the shorter time intervals, the travelling and the rigorous match performances do not leave all the players in the squad completely fit and ready to take on the newer and tougher challenges each time.
As Forlan has clearly pointed out, “This is a nice schedule, a different type of tournament. Hopefully, many players can play many games, but it's not easy. You get more tired. The way they are doing it, it's new for me. You not only need to have a good squad but also need to have the whole squad injury free.”
Funai and Udanta Singh had been injured earlier in September while the ace India striker, Sunil Chhetri and goalkeeper Amrinder Singh were not available for the initial part of the ISL as they were playing for I-League club, Bengaluru FC in the AFC Cup semi-finals.
Forlan, who has replaced experienced French player, Nicolas Anelka as Mumbai City FC’s marquee player in this season, also has to face the challenge of qualifying for the play-offs (the club did not qualify for play-offs in the last two seasons) and the team playing to its best standards.
But the potential, strengths and their abilities to learn and play different styles does not stay the same throughout the tournament as the squad does not remain the same till the end as it had been in the beginning due to injuries or unavailability of the players.
The short term of the tournament also does not leave much time or scope for the recovery and rest for the players. They have to play consecutive matches in a gap of 2-3 days. Players find it really difficult to prepare themselves for the next match, given the short time schedules.
The age of the players also gives them to believe that their fitness is the primary element in the game that the audience is looking forward to. This makes the players push their limits to stay fitter and more agile in the game, despite the time crunch.
A mix of foreign-native players
While this is a good thing that both the domestic and the foreign players get an invaluable experience of different shots, play styles and start picking up on each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities; the mix could also come to be a challenge for the team managers. Steve Coppell, the Kerela Blasters Manager says he finds it challenging to combine and decide on a style of play that suits a majority of the different types of players in the squad and still take the team to the top. The Blasters have only five points from the first five matches and to construe and manage players from France, Spain, Africa and India to play in a certain style and yet make it big in a matter of just 15 weeks is according to Coppell, “one of the biggest challenges in world football.”
Success in a cricket-crazy country
An overwhelming number of Indians follow cricket with a pride and passion so huge that the sport has taken the form of a religion of its own in the country. However, for the football enthusiasts of the nation, ISL is their first chance at being a part of a trendsetting event that is on its way to make a mark in the global map.
Having said this, ISL is still a work in progress albeit garnering a high popularity over its three seasons. But, it’s a fresh start to changing a cricket-only mentality to further develop a sports culture in the country that breeds encouragement and propels interest for participation and viewership of different sports.
The CII-KPMG report further indicates that Indian sports is going through a positive round of change where the country is embracing other sports and talented sportsmen and women who were earlier going unnoticed.
It is now upon the ISL players to break the clutter and make Indian football a chief sport amid all the cacophony. As Forlan claims about the ISL, “It's growing and they are trying to make it an important sport. I know cricket is the main sport, but they are trying to make it a good league. It's not easy but they are trying their best.”
This is a partnered post.