Indian Premier League Soccer provides more questions than it does answers

Hopes are high for India's new Premier League Soccer competition. Burdened by organisational failure, however, one wonders if this corporate dream will remain just that. Sitting 158th in the FIFA world rankings, India has never been one to headline the footballing world. A country which considers cricket to be both a national sport and a religion, football won’t be overtaking the bat and ball anytime soon. However, the north-east region of India is known for being football mad. For example, the Calcutta derby played between Mohan Bagan and East Bengal reaches crowds of 90,000 on a regular basis. So one can understand, then, why Celebrity Management Group (CMG) signed a 30-year deal with the Indian Football Association to create Premier League Soccer. A competition based in West Bengal consisting of 6 teams, or franchises, all playing each other home and away. These teams are all located within the state of West Bengal in five different towns; Bengal Tuskers Siliguri, Barasat Euro Musketeers, Durgapur Vox Champions, Haldia Heroes, Kolkata Camelians and Manchester Howrah. The top four teams would then enter the semi-finals to determine one sole champion. It aims to play around 35 matches in the space of 7 weeks.

Is a passionate footballing state such as West Bengal enough to make the PLS a success?

The structure of this tournament provides several parallels to its cricketing equivalent, the infamous Indian Premier League. Teams will only be able to have 4 foreigners and must have 6 under-21 Indian players. The idea behind this is that the younger players will be able to learn from their older, more talented teammates. The long-term aim of the tournament is to refresh the domestic football scene in India by attracting better players and helping India achieve World Cup qualification within the next 10 years. But is it easier said than done?

In recent weeks, the project seems to have exposed its organisational frailties and the cracks are starting to show. As a result, the entire idea of a Premier League Soccer tournament is one which is beginning to look unfeasible.

Approval of stadiums

Five of the seven stadiums needed for the tournament have not been approved by the All India Football Federation. This situation may have changed since the last report, but that’s just another problem concerning the competition; there are no regular updates for the media or the players. All stadiums also require upgrading to a higher standard, which has resulted in the competition being postponed until around mid-April at the very least.

Quality of talent

The level of players that have been auctioned for the campaign are all players who, to put it nicely, are past it. Hernan Crespo (Barasat; $840,000), Fabio Cannavaro (Siliguri; $830,000), Robert Pires (Howrah; $800,000) and Jay-Jay Okocha (Durgapur; $500,000): all big names – all top talents…several years ago. But despite approaching the end of their decorated careers, these ‘icon players’ are likely to be far more talented than any of the locals. The brains at CMG say that this is just the start, and that soon they will attract better players. But one must step back and understand that the majority of players around the world would have no reason to pack their bags for India. The idea of picking up a pay check for two months work may seem appealing for some, but most leagues already provide an attractive salary. Having said that, plenty of players who are past their peak decide to head to the MLS these days; India may become an alternative option in the near future.

Opposition from the All India Football Federation

As well as stamping their authority on stadiums, reports last month stated that the AIFF temporarily suspended tournament officials from taking part in FIFA’s Transfer Matching System. This poses a problem for the 6 teams who want to fulfil their quota of foreign players. An auction took place for the players several weeks ago but whether or not these players have been paid remains a mystery. However, the current situation was enough for Robbie Fowler who had been auctioned for $530,000, to disassociate himself from the project. He is now training at Blackpool in hope of securing a contract.

The wrong investment

The general consensus is that the PLS is just a money-making scheme. The cynic in me agrees, and I hope I’m proven wrong. Reading quotes from the CMG, it appears that they are actively trying to replicate the Indian Premier League model in hope of generating vast profits. But is the situation right? The IPL is a totally different beast altogether and makes most of its money from TV revenue and advertising. It’s common fact that India are a political force in cricket due to the money it brings into the game. For the PLS, however, millions of football fans in India already follow the English Premier League and it’s unlikely that they would prefer their product over watching Rooney and Van Persie every week.

In truth, this write-up has taken a lot longer than expected for many reasons. Sure, laziness is one of them but it is also rather difficult to write a piece on a tournament where the writer can’t tell right from wrong. A lot of what’s been said regarding the PLS has either been a rumour or the untold truth and so it doesn’t make it easy when trying to take a stance on things.

Ultimately, one cannot assess the true value of the PLS until it has actually started. While there may be financial incentives for those involved, CMG have publicly stated that the tournament’s aim is to improve India’s position in football and that is commendable. But surely this could be achieved by investing at grassroots level and improving their infrastructure? Clubs such as Liverpool and Bayern Munich have already planned activities and academies in India to tap into its potential, and in 2010 the AIFF struck a $140m deal with IMG-Reliance for the commercial rights to promote football in India.

Clearly some investments are being made in Indian football for the right reasons. Let’s hope for football’s sake that the PLS doesn’t buck the trend.

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1 Comment on Indian Premier League Soccer provides more questions than it does answers

  1. Nice post. The lack of an update makes me assume the worst . . .

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