Jackichand Singh for Rs 45 lakh. Thoi Singh for Rs 86 lakh. Eugeneson Lyngdoh for more than Rs one crore and Sunil Chhetri for Rs 1.20 crores! Now this is a clear first for Indian football. Pune City FC lapping up Jackichand Singh - the reigning "Player of the I League" - for a significant sum of money and Chennai picking up Thoi does augur well for Indian football. And for Eugeneson breaching the crore mark must come as a windfall. More so on a day when India has dropped 15 places to languish at number 156 in the FIFA world rankings.
The moot question that one needs to ask is if the Indian Super League (ISL) can transform Indian football. Can it bring in a breath of fresh air and will it encourage the Indian youth to take to football in the months ahead and finally and perhaps most importantly, will it make football India’s second sport after cricket?
For these to happen, the ISL cannot remain a two-month tournament. It is imperative that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) sees the writing on the wall and appropriates the tournament. Already, the ISL is bigger than the I league and with the influx of big names and marquee players from round the world, it is only going to get bigger and better. Also, the star power that the league has will inevitably help it generate eyeballs in season two. If season one is anything to go by, season two will definitely be bigger and better with most of the franchises trying to become more professional in their ways of functioning. Hopefully, team selection will be left to the coaches and technical staff, there will be limited interference from owners and players will be treated with dignity and respect. However, none of this will work if post December, there is a lag of ten months before the next season starts. One has to keep the brand sustainable and viable, the interest should not be allowed to flag and audience interest in the competition cannot be allowed to go away. And the only way this can be done is by creating a synergy between the ISL and the I league.
With the under-17 world cup just two years away, it is of paramount importance that the AIFF gets its act together. It is the best opportunity India will have in a long time to draw the nations’ youth to the sport. And the ISL can create the platform for doing so. Come October 3, 2015 there will be buzz around the tournament and if the buzz translates into getting more talent to the sport and encouraging more Thois and Jackichands to the ambit of football, the effort can be deemed a success.
However, for the moment it is important we celebrate the day when Indian stars have fetched crore-plus amounts in the auction. It speaks volumes about the marketability of the sport and the success of season one. One can only hope that it continues into the future and impacts Indian football positively in the long term.