ISL Draft: A fair deal for Indian players

The Indian Players Draft this season saw a turnover of around Rs. 49 crore, where the 10 franchises roped in 134 Indian players from a pool of 206. This definitely is the highest spending ever by clubs (read franchises) on Indian players.

ISL founder and chairperson Neeta Ambani poses with key retained players ahead of the Indian Super League Player Draft in Mumbai.   -  PTI

The name Ashim Biswas was long lost in the crowd of footballers who have fallen to the intemperance of poor management in club football in India, specifically Kolkata. Biswas spent his best years playing for various Kolkata clubs. Considered by many as the worthy successor to Baichung Bhutia, Biswas packed intelligence and skill, making him one of the best strikers in the business when he started his career early last decade.

Biswas fell out of the grid as clubs in India failed to realise the need for professional management, which included the need to have sports medicine experts to manage injuries. “Looking back, I think I had a tendency to overlook my injuries in the absence of proper advice on rehabilitation and that resulted in a major problem just when I was set to give my career a boost,” Biswas says. The diminutive striker, who brought forth memories of silken skills of players like Krishanu Dey and Surojit Sengupta, was playing in the I-League second division before the Indian Super League ‘rescued’ the 34-year-old.

READ: ISL draft: A ready reckoner

Biswas’ name was perhaps the most striking aspect of the ‘Sunday Signings’ of the Indian Player Draft in the ISL, held recently in Mumbai. It was not that Biswas received a major windfall in the Draft, netting just Rs. 10 lakh, but being a part of the Jamshedpur FC squad is itself a big opportunity, which the player feels would give the right impetus to his sagging football career.

 

The Indian Super League is a close-ended tournament and hardly conforms to the format or model of any of the successful football leagues in the world. Despite all its shortcomings, which chiefly come in the form of the All India Football Federation’s attitude of insulating the franchises from the fear of relegation, the ISL has provided a big boost to club football, with a professional structure in place. The Indian Players Draft this season saw a turnover of around Rs. 49 crore, where the 10 franchises roped in 134 Indian players from a pool of 206. This definitely is the highest spending ever by clubs (read franchises) on Indian players.

READ: Top picks for the ISL draft

Picking up the cue from the repeated pleas of the legendary Brazilian Zico, who had on numerous occasions, as the coach of FC Goa, stressed on the need for more domestic talent in the tournament, the fourth season of the ISL has brought in two major changes. The first is raising the ceiling on the minimum number of Indian players from five to six in a playing XI and second was the abolition of the appointment of marquee players. This may easily be interpreted as a move to make the tournament more purposeful than just being a glitzy jamboree of retired international stars.

 

Continuing with the trend noticeable over the past three seasons, the franchises invested more in defence, which includes goalkeepers, when it came to selection of Indian players. The more creative aspect of the game was perhaps left to the international picks for which the franchises have kept almost 80 percent of its Rs. 18 crore salary cap. This may have been the logic behind Anas Edathodika (Jamshedpur FC) and Eugeneson Lyngdoh (Atletico Kolkata) attracting the highest price tag of Rs. 1.1 crore each. Subrata Paul, the former India goalkeeper, attracted the next highest billing of Rs. 87 lakh as ISL newcomer Jamshedpur FC went on a shopping spree. It spent Rs. 4.75 crore, utilising all the 15 rounds of the Draft to secure other prominent names like Mehtab Hossain, Souvik Chakraborty, Bikash Jairu and Robin Gurung.

Anas Edathodika (facing page) and Eugeneson Lyngdoh attracted the highest price tag of Rs. 1.1 crore each.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

 

The defending champion, Atletico Kolkata, had to go on its own in the Draft, having seen its international partner, the Spanish giant Atletico Madrid, forsaking its interest in the tournament. The holder had the highest spending per capita when it came to picking its 13 names. Apart from Lyngdoh, ATK bought the services of strikers Robin Singh, Jayesh Rane and defenders Anwar Ali and Ashutosh Mehta, spending an average of Rs. 34 lakh on each player. Bengaluru FC, which changed its allegiance from I-League to ISL this season, preferred to keep the core of its squad intact, picking the likes of Harmanjot Khabra, Alwyn George, Lalthuammawia Ralte and Lenny Rodrigues from the Draft.

Others, too, like two-time runner-up Kerala Blasters and former champion Chennaiyin FC preferred stability over expensive signings. Chennaiyin, while retaining the likes of Jeje Lalpekhlua, Jerry Lalrinzuala and Anirudh Thapa, picked up Thoi Singh, D. Ganesh and Bikramjit Singh to tidy up its midfield. Kerala Blasters, while retaining C. K. Vineeth and Sandesh Jinghan, went for Rino Anto, Jackichand Singh and Milan Singh during the Draft.

The Draft saw a big chunk of 72 players remaining unsold and they will now seek to find a place with the I-League clubs.

As the franchises now move out in search of international recruits, it remains to be seen the quality of players each side can muster from the highly competitive international market. Now that the franchises do not have to splurge on ageing stars, who do not have the fitness or form to find top division clubs in Europe, they can easily pick up relatively younger players with a much lesser price tag. Franchises like Bengaluru FC, FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC have roped in a few international recruits but the comparatively big names are yet to come.

With the tournament expected to be extended to six months, the franchises will be hard-pressed for quality names.

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