Little more than five months on from a nerve-wracking final of the Hero Indian Super League's second season, that saw Chennaiyin FC crowned champions in the most dramatic of fashions, Indian football is still suffering from its after effects. Sadly though, it is not the breathtaking football on show that day which is making the headlines, but something that followed the game, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of Indian football fans since.
If an ugly brawl involving FC Goa owners, Dattaraj Salgaocar and Srinivas Dempo, and Chennaiyin FC midfielder Elano didn't do enough to take the sheen off the game, the way the matter has lingered on since has all but killed the memories of game.
The controversy was finally laid to rest on Thursday when the ISL Regulatory committee came down hard on FC Goa and slapped a whopping fine of Rs 11 crore while their co-owners Shrinivas Dempo and Dattaraj Salgaocar were banned for two and three seasons respectively for "bringing disrepute" to the tournament.
The punishment however didn't end there, FC Goa will also be docked 15 points in the next ISL season and that's what makes this ruling not just harsh but unsustainable.
Where does this leave FC Goa's 2016 ISL campaign? Complete tatters, considering the short duration of the league. A league that just offers 42 points, 15 points is a huge penalty. If you take a look at the first two seasons of the ISL, the cut-off point for qualification for the semi-finals was 19 and 22 points respectively. If we settle on an average of 21 points as the points that can guarantee you a semi-final spot, a target that all eight franchises in the league start the campaign with, it would require FC Goa to pick up 36 (21+15) points from a possible 42 to make the semi-finals.
While that figure isn't an absolute impossible in football, the dynamics of the Indian Super League are such that it certainly pushes it towards impossible. The league is just an eight-team affair with each team equal in terms of the financial muscle, thanks to the league's 20 crore salary cap. Moreover, India is geographically vast and the constant travelling certainly takes its toll on the players, so expecting a team to pick up 36 points, a tally that is eleven points more than that of the league leaders of the last campaign is certainly asking for too much.
So what does that leave us with? An eight-team league where one of the team is already out of the running for the semi-finals. That is certainly not a good point to start off for a league and a sport which is trying to find its feet. A lack of competitiveness is the last thing the ISL needs at this stage.
Secondly, financially it leaves FC Goa completely reeling. While the acts of their owners and staff after the final last season warrant a punishment, but to what extent and what cost? The ISL teams had already incurred double of their projected losses after the first season. It is estimated that each team lost between Rs.35-40 crore after the first season, according to a Hindustan Times report.
So a fine of Rs. 11 crore, that already eats into half of the salary cap limit of the ISL, leaves FC Goa with a clear disadvantage ahead of ISL season three. If the financial aspect would make it difficult for FC Goa to attract the best foreign and domestic talent, the franchise having all but no chance to make the semi-finals of the competition would make it all the more worse.
Would a Zico be willing to take charge of side that has to just go through the motions throughout the season? Would a Lucio be willing to join the league which he has no chance of winning? The answer would most likely be no. What FC Goa did should be condemned and punished and the ISL Regulatory committee is right about that, but should that come at the cost of depriving some of our Indian players from sharing the dressing room with these great legends? The answer to this is definitely no.
Thirdly, this could be a hard blow for Goan football as well. The Goans have moved on from watching the I-League and supporting their I-League clubs. Sporting Clube de Goa, who play their home matches at the Fatorda stadium, which also the home ground for FC Goa saw an average attendance of 1,203 in the 2015 I-League season compared to FC Goa's 18,843 in the ISL that followed. This clearly shows where the Goan fans' hearts lie at the moment. But it would be interesting to see whether the Goans turn up in the same numbers to support a team that has virtually no ambitions.
The one thing that Goan football, that has been a hotbed for Indian football talent over the years, doesn't need is more negativity, especially after the way the Goans have snubbed the I-League clubs, which they once adored. India can't afford to lose the Goan fanbase for the sake of its football.
There have been bold judgements before in football. Serie A saw champions Juventus being relegated and AC Milan being docked eight points after being involved in a match-fixing scandal. But that happened in a much bigger league and for a much bigger crime. ISL is nowhere strong enough to sustain such a blow.
Many believe, the ISL is Indian football's last hope of revival and it may hold truth considering the popularity that it has gained in its first two season, so the show must go on and go on with full swing.
When the footage came out on Monday that cleared Brazilian midfielder Elano of accusations of physically assaulting the FC Goa owners, the general sentiment of the public went against the Goan club. Although it was the right decision to punish FC Goa, but has the committee got too driven by the sentiment around them and got the magnitude all wrong?
Despite there being plenty of positives about the ISL Regulation committee's bold ruling like not sparing the AIFF vice-president, the adverse impact it may have on the sport and the league renders the ruling bordering more towards the sensational than substantial.
Updated Date: May 07, 2016 15:09 PM