This weekend was the first real test for the Indian Super League. After getting a free run due to Euro Qualifiers, the ISL came up head to head against the English Premier League. And the result wasn't pretty, it also wasn't surprising.
In the ISL, the finishing is poor, the marquee players are old, fitness levels aren't great and neither is technique. Yes, you get the odd moment of brilliance (like Pavel's wonder strike last night) but on the whole it very much feels like the first unsteady step taken by a toddler.
Then, you flip channels.
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero is on the screen -- standing on the left side of the goal in the D with a defender in front of him. He pauses for a split second, feints, gets half a step to his right and curls the ball into the side netting. The goalkeeper dived full length and he couldn't stop it. Later in the match, he netted his fourth goal -- this time he was on the right side of the goal and he let his left foot do the talking.
They were both high quality goals -- the kind that only the best strikers in the world can produce with any regularity and that is exactly what Aguero does.
The passing is slick, the tactics are well defined, the playing surface is amazing. And as football fans, we are used to watching the EPL -- day in and day out. And when that doesn't suffice, we shift to a higher level and watch the Champions League. Simply put, we are used to watching a better quality of football.
So if given the option between the EPL and ISL, why would anyone pick the ISL?
Yes, it's great to have players like Del Piero, Alexandro Tzorvas, Joan Capdevila, Freddie Ljungberg, Nicolas Anelka and other prominent names play in India -- great for India but would a football fan from Europe watch this? The general quality is also a few rungs above the I-League, but it's still not even on the same page as the EPL and that is a big drawback.
A drawback because unlike the Indian Premier League or even the Pro Kabaddi league, which had no real competition, the competition is already well entrenched. We know the players in the Premier League -- the ones in the ISL are largely unknown. We know the teams, their styles, the managers and have been already following them for years. All things that the ISL needs to work on from ground up.
With the IPL -- it was India's and the world's first introduction to a club-based cricket league. And nothing on the lines of the pro kabaddi has ever existed before. So they had the first-mover advantage and the curiosity of the public to fall back on. The ISL has neither.
ISL teams have spent money and tried to ensure that the management of the event is as professional as possible. But is that enough? How can it take on the EPL? Should it even try?
Instead, the ISL has a different battle on it's hands. The Mohun Bagan-East Bengal Derby often draws crowds in excess of 100,000 but the rest of the matches sometimes struggle to convince even a 1,000 people to make the trip to the stadium.
You rarely -- if ever -- understand how difficult a game is when you watch it on TV. The screen distorts distances and angles. It also never shows you the amount of ground each player has to cover and you never truly appreciate the efforts being put in by the players in hostile weather while you sit in air-conditioned comfort. Being at the ground allows you to soak in the madness and truly support the game.
That is what the ISL can introduce too. The quality will come in time. It took the EPL 200 years to get where it is. If we can keep the faith in the ISL -- we surely won't have to wait that long.
The ISL's biggest triumph is not going to be the number of eyeballs it grabs -- even the Pro Kabaddi league did that better.
Instead the triumph will be getting people to fill up stadiums over and over again, and introducing them to the joys of watching live football and appreciating that moment of sublime magic -- a backheel, a no-look pass, a through ball into space, a long ball that falls at the feet of the striker and a superbly-timed last ditch tackle.
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Updated Date: Oct 21, 2014 09:28:32 IST