ISL 2018 | Is Indian Super League finally on its way up?

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ISL 2018 | Is Indian Super League finally on its way up?

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Subhayan Dutta


While most managers have been heard complaining about their leaky defence with ISL seeing 63 goals in the opening 22 games, for a neutral football watcher, it couldn’t get any better. ISL has got just one 0-0 so far, which leads to the question if the league is finally getting better.

The blueprint was always there, with each step highlighted by markers for the Indian football management to follow - a proper implementation of coaching and grounds at the grassroots level and at every increasing level from thereon, as has been the successful practice in England, Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain, and others. Then, with big corporate magnets willing to invest in the league along with film stars, industrialists, and cricketers willing to own different clubs, ISL managed to get its hands on the one thing that strung them all.

The league was born in royalty and it made its entry directly into the top ranking leagues of the country, soon becoming the prime competitor for I-League. But, the money, lure, and star power of ISL had one thing missing – the tradition of I-League. ISL makers knew it and the marquee concept was primarily introduced to create a tradition of their own before the obvious lack of foresight saw it crumbling in just three seasons.

With ATK and Chennaiyin FC dominating the league with their rigid playing style, other franchises soon followed suit and the league ceased to be about ‘development’ or clubs playing with the ‘right philosophy’. Most games in ISL, towards the end of the third season and the start of the fourth, had become monotonous and entrenched in fouls, mostly unnecessary. To see the players diving just for the sake of taking the ball over the half-way line, from where they could push into opponent’s box from set-pieces, was suffocating to watch for the neutrals. To make matters worse, the terrible refereeing made the league experience a tedious torture in hell.

However, it was amidst this seemingly destined fall that the management decided to include Bengaluru FC in the midst following which a hopeless FC Goa brought in Spain’s Sergio Lobera in search of something new. Hence, when a large chunk of the league was still going through a gloomy age, there were few clubs who had managed to keep their flickering torch burning with their beautiful play. Consequently, although it was Chennaiyin FC, who eventually went on to lift the title, it was the other three teams in top four – Bengaluru FC, FC Goa, and FC Pune City – that became the highlights of the season.

The league had somehow ended on a positive note despite losing its steam in the middle and ISL should be immensely indebted to its clubs for looking the right way and taking wiser notes this time rather than repeating its philosophy of following the successful managers like a flock. Managers like John Gregory and Steve Coppell had still ended up looking more successful managers with one winning the league and the other taking debutants Jamshedpur to a fifth-place finish.

One look at how the likes of Jamshedpur FC, Kerala Blasters, and NorthEast United FC have been playing so far, and one will be convinced that league has got a stupendous upgrade this season. With as many as five Spanish managers taking charge of clubs out of the ten competing, most teams have shown the quintessential Spanish attacking intent at the slightest of opportunities. As a result, an ATK fan like me has no problems watching a Kerala Blasters and NorthEast game, something which wasn’t the case a few months back.

ISL has seen 63 goals in 22 matches with only one goalless draw so far. The average goals per game have been a decent 2.83 with many goals being late winners or equalizers and not to forget the world-class long rangers. And with the goal conversion rate is somewhat low at 11.94%, the average goals per game only hints at the huge number of chances being created every game now with a goal coming every 31.43 minutes.

However, even with a whopping 835.73 average passes a game and very little hold-up play, to be honest, the number of fouls are yet to come down by a mile. An ISL game still sees as many as 22.01 fouls on average and although good refereeing could improve it a long way, given the recent few games, such a development seems like a distant possibility. It is not all attack though, for the emergence of Miku, Corominas, and Kalu Uche have also prompted clubs to get in names like Mato Grgic, Marti Crespi, and Carlos Pena, for there have also been 18.45 interceptions a game on average as well.

It prompts us to ask the question – what makes a football league entertaining? Is it the tough competition among the elite few as is experienced by English Premier League and La Liga, or the sheer number of goals that we find in Bundesliga every weekend, or is it the tactical exhibition that the Serie A had once perfected? While the exact parameter cannot be discerned, we hope Indian Super League manages to have the perfect blend of them someday.

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