With the news of I-League, previously known as the National Football League, tweaking rules that can aid addition of more foreign players on squad– Indian football scenario is seeing enormous changes. I-League is India’s first domestic football league and the increase in number of foreign players has sparked a debate.
According to sports magazine Goal, the number of overseas players an I-League club can sign up for, in the upcoming season, has been raised to six from four. Out of the six, two of them are required to be from an affiliated country of Asian Football Confederation. Previously, only one player should have been from an affiliated country.
The new rules also state that no more than 5 foreign players can be on the starting eleven. This rule is shared by Indian Super League, a relatively new football league in the Indian scenario. Interestingly, an Indian Super League (ISL) team can take on a maximum of eight overseas players.
This move of fielding more foreign players was backed by Kolkata clubs- Kolkata East and Mohan Bagun, who had been pushing for it with All India Football Federation (AIFF). The idea behind their proposal was to raise the profile of the struggling league to make it more competitive and make it at par with more popular ISL. This became especially important because I-League and ISL will be running parallel in the next season– so the same players cannot be rotated between both leagues.
Ignoring Local Talent
However, the move has not been welcomed by other teams in the league. Says Ranjit Bajaj, owner of Minerva Punjab FC in New Indian Express report:
“The I-League has just gone backwards, just when the ISL was thinking forward by reducing a foreign player. This decision has really taken us by surprise, as we expected the status quo to be maintained. These foreign players are going to take the place of an Anirudh Thapa or a Vinit Rai. Obviously, when you have the choice between an 18-year-old kid and a foreign player on the bench, you are going to opt for the latter.”
The other concern the teams have is that only big clubs such as East Bengal and Mohun Bagan can afford foreign players of a certain quality. The rule change will impact budget of these clubs as well– considering there were plans in investing resources in developing local talent.
Says former Indian football player CC Jacob to Times of India, “Identifying local talents is key to making football a popular sport in the country. Though teams have five overseas and six Indian players, it should also have at least three local players based on the region where the tournament is being played.”
With the new rules in place, it remains to be seen how the football scenario in India would play out.