More Indians on the ISL pitch in future: Kushal Das

"The current rule of five Indians and six foreigners is being followed for a reason. We are moving in the direction of a seven-four stipulation," the AIFF general secretary said.

Jewel Raja Shaikh was Atletico de Kolkata's hero in the ISL final.   -  PTI

Jewel Raja converted the decisive fifth penalty kick for Atletico de Kolkata, the team coached by Spaniard Jose Molina. ATK also kept faith in Debjit Majumder under the bar for the final against Kerala Blasters FC in regulation time and the tie-breaker. The custodian made 15 appearances in ISL 2016, incidentally the maximum by any goalkeeper figuring in the third season (according to www.indiansuperleague.com).

Jewel and Debjit were two Indians delivering in crunch situations for the champion outfit. Striker C. K. Vineeth also got crucial goals to inspire the Steve Coppell-coached Blasters to its second final in three seasons. Indians, by and large, made an impact in every franchise in Season Three of the ISL.

Kushal Das, the AIFF secretary, expressing delight at the development, said: “It is happening. Even national coach Stephen Constantine observed how playing in ISL has resulted in improvement in the quality of the Indians. When players are training under the likes of Antonio Habas (FC Pune City head coach) and Steve Coppell, levels will improve,” he said, speaking on the sidelines of an event linked to the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

Improving Indian performances should be viewed against the limit of five first-team places for domestic players, with six foreigners occupying the remaining slots in the playing XI. Asked about relaxation in ISL provisions, allowing a coach to field more Indians in the squad, Das stressed that the seven-four provision (seven Indians, four foreigners) is inevitable. "The current rule of five Indians, six foreigners is being followed for a reason. We are moving in the direction of a seven-four stipulation.”

The AIFF secretary explained: “We have to fall in line with the rules followed by the Asian Football Confederation, which stipulate at least seven locals and a maximum of four foreigners.” As per news reports, the AFC has further stipulated that among those four foreigners at least one needs to be an Asian for next season’s Asian Champions League. The ISL allows franchises the freedom to sign foreigners from anywhere.

The Portuguese head coach with NorthEast United FC, Nelo Vingada, has been vocal in support of ISL adopting the players' ratio followed in other national leagues in Asia, reasoning that cohesion on the pitch will be easier with more Indians in the squad. Maybe as a pointer, Mumbai City FC named Sunil Chhetri as captain for the return-leg semi-final against ATK. And Mehrajuddin Wadoo, another Indian, wore the captain’s armband for Chennaiyin FC in a league tie.

Chhetri and Wadoo led their respective squads under coaches Alexander Guimares (Costa Rica) and Marco Materazzi (Italy). With the tournament bound to fall in line with AFC regulations, as the federation secretary mentioned, more Indians will get opportunities on the pitch to become match-winners, following Jewel’s example for ATK.

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