This is the first time I’ve sat down to write anything about the Indian Super League after that fateful ISL Final. That final was the culmination of Atletico De Kolkata’s topsy-turvy season where they started like a house on fire but ended in an as underwhelming manner as a biryani made for the international crowd.
Their performance in the league and knockout phases, both could be seen as flawed in one way and resilient in another. The winner of the whole affair… no it’s not football as most pundits like to say but instead us football fans.
Who would’ve thought that Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Borussia Dortmund (although their fan base may be dwindling rapidly after recent performances) in India would finally get to see good quality football in their own cities?
But, that’s exactly what’s happened. Let bitter people (some from mainstream media and some former players) denigrate the Indian Super League (ISL) as much as they want to. For me, the ISL was a huge success and will remain so unless the organisers really bungle the next instalment of the great tournament. This is my review of a tournament that I have no qualms saying was a tremendous success.
Reviewing Indian Super League, it’s Performance, And Its Format
So, how did the Indian Super League perform in its inaugural season? There were good and bad both. The good, without a doubt for me, was the way the people of our great country took to the Indian Super League like a long lost child come back after getting lost in the stereotypical Kumbh Mela.
I love the fact that a lot of the people following the Indian Super League were people who had no affinity for football before. I love it even more that people who followed more high profile leagues from Europe all their lives chose to reward their love to our own domestic league.
I especially love the fact that barring few teething troubles such as lights going out and poor parking provisions at venues the organisers did a brilliant job with an event. If you consider the fact that the initial expectations from the Indian Super League weren’t anywhere near the popularity it managed to achieve, it is an even greater achievement from the organisers.
The quality of football, itself, was comparable to the second tier leagues of the footballing nations of Europe and South America. Our champions Atletico De Kolkata may get taken apart by the bigwigs of the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga but I have a feeling that they would give the level two teams a run for their money. Heck, our flair child FC Goa was more entertaining and effective attacking wise than many European clubs. I’m looking at the football team from the Middle Earth of Stoke.
Our Indian Super League teams even managed to draw more crowds than most leagues of the world. In fact, only the English Premier League and the Bundesliga are more watched as of now. That was only because some of our stadiums are smaller than the smallest stadiums on other continents.
I’ll give you a prediction. You give our teams bigger stadiums to fill and I promise you they’ll fill it! Watch out UK and Germany, Indian football has been resuscitated and is coming after you next!
The format is the only thing I have a bone to pick with. I like the fact that we have a combination of league and knockout because that is what is needed in a country like India. The Indian Super League is nascent in nature and needs its popularity and entertainment to be boosted. If we were to only use the league format, I think the league wouldn’t be as popular as it was. The knockout phase adds a certain spice to the whole meal for our uninitiated countrymen.
At the same time, I don’t like the fact that we have a 1st vs. 4th and 2nd vs. 3rd format. I believe we would be better off if we drew lots for who will play who. I know that the Major League Soccer uses this playoff system but even there I don’t approve of it. You might say that when we have more teams, this is something that will cease to matter but I don’t agree entirely.
What’s the point of making the leaders play the lowest qualifying team? I say, we draw lots because that will add another level of excitement as fans will start to speculate who their teams will play in the next round. Imagine not knowing who your favourite Indian Super League team will play in the knockouts. Doesn’t that send a tingle down your spine as you speculate whether you’ll meet the in-form team or the pushovers? Does to me which is why I think it’ll be good for the common football fan.
Reviewing Indian Super League Players, Indian and Foreign
Ahh, the Indian Super League players, did they perform? Did the foreign stars do justice to their legends? Did our Indian players make the step up? Could our stars match the best geriatrics legends that the world had to offer? Is the concept of ISL marquee player good for our country? Interesting questions and the answers are not black and white.
The quality of football in the Indian Super League was better than what many and I myself had expected. In some games, the quality of football was breath-taking while in others it was poor. A large percentage of the latter could be attributed to Atletico De Kolkata but they won so they justified it all with the big T.
What about the ISL marquee players from abroad? Again, some of them showed their capabilities while others fell flat on their faces. However, it wasn’t the stars we expected to do well who did well. It were the unfancied stars that did it.
Elano lit up the league but he relied on set pieces a lot which isn’t something that requires a lot of stamina. Luis Garcia did it somewhat through his passing but couldn’t step up in terms of assists and goals. David James really did it but he was another who didn’t rely on his fitness because he wasn’t an outfield player.
The Anelkas, the Trezeguets, the Ljungbergs, the Del Pierros, and I’m sorry to add the Pires are the ones that couldn’t do it. Did I leave someone out? Well, you can add them to the last group because if they weren’t memorable then they didn’t do it.
Apart from the ISL marquee players, there were other foreigners in the Indian Super League too. The ones that stood out for me were (in no particular order) Apoula Edel, Josemi, Fikru Lemessa, Bernard Mendy, Bruno Pelissari, Stiven Mendoza, Gustavo Dos Santos, Andre Santos, Zohib Amiri, Bruno Pinheiro, Iain Hume, Colin Falvey, Stephen Pearson, Pavel Cmovs, and Jan Stohanzl.
My best 11 from this lot is in image. In honour of the finalists, theirs are the colours I have chosen.
The best part of the Indian Super League was the Indian players. They really turned on the magic if you ask me. I’m not going to talk about the players who never made it onto the pitch as so many others have chosen to do. I’d rather be positive and talk about those that merited a spot in their teams and showed their merits in grand style.
The pick of the lot for me were Romeo Fernandes, Narayan Das, Sandesh Jhingan, and of course Arnab Mondal. Romeo is a star in the making and he didn’t only show it with his goals and assists but also with the skills that don’t get counted. He passed well, ran well, and even tackled well. Das, Jhingan, and Mondal are all defenders who were like walls for their teams.
There’s news that Mondal may even get picked by Atletico De Madrid albeit only for their B team. It’s still a step up for the 25 year old and I wish him all the best. I hope he climbs up the ladder, faces Messi, and shows how good Indian defenders are by nullifying him left, right, and centre. That’s a nice dream isn’t it?
While these were the standout performers for me, there were others who deserve credit for standing tall too. These were (again in no particular order) Dhanachandra Singh, Balwant Singh, Debabrata Roy, Bikramjit Singh, Mandar Rao Desai, Sandip Nandy, Rehenesh TP, and Durga Boro. (If you feel I have left our some players then let me hear it in the comments section)
Now, I know that my lists lack players from FC Pune City and Northeast United FC but that’s only because those two teams didn’t have any standout performers for me. They were both well drilled teams that played as a team. Give them a star and they may even surprise us all next season.
Reviewing Indian Super League Fans
You can’t fault the Indian fans for showing heart. They truly know how to cheer even if they can’t appreciate the game. There were many instances where I heard the fans cheering for no rhyme or reason at all.
It doesn’t matter though because at the end of the day the fact that they cheered is more than enough. The understanding of the game and the resultant arguments with best buddies will come later.
Some of the stadiums truly showed the kind of fan following any sport in the country can generate. Examples of great stadiums and great fans include the champions Atletico De Kolkata, the favourites Chennaiyin FC, the team with heart Kerala Blasters FC, the down but not out Mumbai City FC, and even the outlying Northeast United FC.
Delhi Dynamos FC fans can learn a thing or two from the fans of those teams. Delhi Dynamos FC’s stadium sorely needed some good support.
Reviewing Mainstream Media
This is where I have a problem. We have a well-developed and cash rich mainstream media. It is because of this reason that I find it surprising that the big channels and newspapers couldn’t find a good football expert to write and report for them. It was a pity reading some of the reports that our media churned out. They were poorly researched, lacked insight, and were depressingly drab.
Now, I am not saying that I want something like the overzealous media of England but we could do with some passionate and hard-hitting journalists who actually know what they’re spouting. Even the Indian Super League website’s reports were poor when compared to European media. I guess they’re learning too. Hope they can buck up their part in the big scheme of things because the media is actually responsible for creation a lot of passion amongst the populace.