As 2017 slowly comes to a close, I, Arunava Chaudhuri (arunfoot) take a look back at the year gone by in Indian football in a series of write-ups on what all happened across the calendar year 2017 including the highlights, the good and the bad, and finally the outlook into the year 2018.
Before I come to the good that all happened in Indian football, lets come to the bad and negatives that have happened in the calendar year 2017.
Indian Super League/I-League merger
The biggest issue which needs to be sorted is the merger of the Indian Super League and I-League in the interest of professional Indian club football. Having 20 club/franchise sides competing across ISL/I-League is draining the available talent base.
One has to be honest. A few weeks in it is evident that India currently cannot sustain a system in which it needs to feed 20 clubs with Indian footballers of a certain quality, which would allow top level professional football to be played.
It is something which needs to grow over a period of years and not weeks. Having seen quite a bit of ISL and I-League football on television and live, my assessment is damning, we have a quality issue and also with five foreigners playing an over-dependence on foreigners. The ISL needed the foreigners in the first few years to create a certain standard and hype around the league, this season they have come down from six starting foreigners to five, but the I-League went from four to five starting foreigners to be on a level playing field and also cover for the lack of adequate Indian talent.
Some people working in I-League clubs, who don’t want to come on record, have told me and other journalists that they were forced into getting more foreigners as the best India talent has moved to the ISL for higher salaries and better exposure.
Will this impasse be sorted in 2018? We will have to wait and see, but I feel 2019 will be the year in which the Indian Super League will become the top tier of Indian club football with the five year ‘One City, One Club’ rule set to end.
Better quality Coaching is needed at youth level!
Another issue I have observed on my travels around India is the lack of quality coaching at youth level. I don’t want to put all coaches into one bag, there are surely good coaches around but as someone having been in and around football in India and the world for all my life, I have seen stuff being thought to kids which do not make sense in our day and age. I saw things which is better not thought, rather allow the kids to play open football and enjoy.
There are loads of coaches and school PE teachers, who go and do their AIFF and AFC Coaching licences to gain entry into clubs, academies and schools; but forget what they learn for the exams once they are done. A mechanism needs to be developed to check what coaches do and how. I know it is tough with the given size of India, but something needs to be done about it, then all youth coaches are also scouts for the India system to find and nurture future India stars.
A good move on that front was the formation of the Association of Indian Football Coaches (AIFC), but for the moment it is only intended for AFC ‘B’ License holders and above for professional coaches.
Like in the rest of the world, television has a say in kick-off timings. But the new timings of Star Sports for the Indian Super League and I-League have come in for much criticism from Indian football fans for different reasons. The 8pm kick off might be television friendly, but unfriendly for fans to go and watch matches live as returning back from matches gets difficult for them.
Then there are the 2pm kick offs in the I-League, which are fine in the winter months, but could become an issue towards the warmer months.
Match Grounds, Training Facilities, Maintenence
The 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup and Indian Super League over the last three years have brought quality grounds and much better training facilities to Indian football.
But some of the grounds being used for the I-League, the question is if they are grounds at all. Last year it was Ludhiana, this season it is Coimbatore for different reasons for which the host side is also not responsible, but in the interest of the players and the fans, the I-League body needs to step in and postpone matches or shift them.
Then there is the example of Mohun Bagan wanting to come back to play at their historic Mohun Bagan ground. You then play against the Indian Arrows on a ground which is uneven, lacks grass on certain patches or has gone brown, uncontrollable bounce and loads of other facilities not present as the management decided to use the ground at short notice. It also showed that lessons were not learned from the FIFA World Cup as match grounds and training facilities should ideally be separated from another as nowadays training facilities are used by the senior and numerous junior teams.
Then there are the maintenance issues of artificial turf grounds due to which injuries are becoming more than they should be besides the wrong footwear being worn by some of the players.
I hope you enjoyed this second part of the series! Maybe some people in power are reading about the issues to address. The next one is to follow…