The seventh season of the Indian Super League (ISL 2020-21) saw significant involvement of transfer fees as the clubs spent Rs 9.5 crore on buying new players, six times more than last season.
Over the years, the norm in Indian football has been to sign both domestic and foreign players on free transfers -- which means clubs usually avoid paying transfer fees to other clubs and instead focus on signing players who are free agents, that is out of contract.
However, during the 2020-21 season, ISL clubs spent almost six times more on incoming player transfers -- Rs 9.5 crore compared to last season's Rs 1.4 crore.
There was also a significant increase in terms of player sale revenue as ISL clubs raked Rs 2.6 crore, a hike of 62.5 per cent from Rs 1.6 crore last season despite the coronavirus pandemic induced financial situation.
Paying of transfer fees was quite common between ISL clubs this season like the sale of Manvir Singh from FC Goa to ATK Mohun Bagan in the summer transfer window for approximately Rs 80 lakh.
Dheeraj Singh went the other direction from ATK Mohun Bagan to FC Goa for approximately Rs 70 lakh in the January transfer window.
Anuj Kichlu of Best Of You Sports, an established football player agency in India, said, "ISL has expanded and clubs are moving from 1-2 year contracts to long-term contracts with younger players. The buying and selling of players never happened in the first 4-5 years.
"It has really kicked in the last 2 years but I am hoping the transfer market will grow exponentially in the next two seasons.
"Teams have to make their squads and they know more or less what their budgets are. Paying a transfer fee for a better talent makes sense rather than having an inferior player."
Other common global practice of activating release clause was also seen in the ISL this season as City Football Group-backed Mumbai City FC paid Rs 1.6 crore according to the release clause of ISL 2019-20 Golden Ball winner Hugo Boumous to secure his services from FC Goa.
Previously, it has been common practice for ISL clubs to pay transfer fees to I-League clubs for talented domestic players and that continued this season also with the most significant transfer being Bengaluru FC paying approximately Rs 40 lakh to Chennai City FC to sign fullback Ajith Kumar.
The growing popularity of ISL globally as one of the fastest developing leagues in Asia was further showcased by the fact that ISL clubs even paid transfer fees and loan fees to foreign clubs to sign some quality foreigners.
ATK Mohun Bagan paid a transfer fee to A-League's Brisbane Roar to sign Brad Inman while Mumbai City FC used their global network to sign Adam Le Fondre (Sydney FC, Australia), Cy Goddard (Benevento, Italy) and Hernan Santana (Sporting Gijon, Spain) by paying loan fees to foreign clubs.
An industry expert, on condition of anonymity, said, "Several ISL clubs utilised the fact that transfer and loan fees are not counted in the salary cap. It is great to see the clubs employ one of the best practices of the sport despite the pandemic.
"It shows the commitment of the club owners towards taking Indian football forward together with the league.
"Clubs are also tying down both domestic and foreign players to long term contracts so just like everywhere in the world the amount of transfer and loan fees spent will increase every year and other best practices like release clauses, sell on fees and buy back prices will all become a common practice."
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