I-League talking points: Poor telecast and big forwards grab the headlines
The telecast quality of the 2019-20 I-League has been poor but the league continues to attract fans from across the country
I-League, or the recently demoted football league of India, is back in action after the long wait (as the decision makers at the AIFF Headquarters in Dwaraka contemplated what to do with the country’s erstwhile top league). While the quality of football hasn’t always been the best in I-League (partly due to the poor infrastructure), the league has never been short of drama. In fact that last three I-League titles were won by teams (Aizawl FC, Minerva Punjab FC, Chennai City FC) that weren't expected to fight for the title.
The first two weeks of the 2019-20 edition suggests it is going to be the same with unpredictability the common element in all the matches that have been played so far. Red cards, big forwards and telecast-related controversies… you’d think nothing happened in the summer as I-League is back to being err… the I-League.
Here are five talking points from the first round of I-League matches
What's with the telecast, DSport?
There was a lot of hype before the first match that this season would see the I-League compete with the Indian Super League when it came to TRPs and eyeballs. Those hopes died as soon as the first match’s telecast was cut short after a technical error.
Nobody exactly knows who is at fault with everyone pointing finger at each other. But the poor production, amateur switching, shaky cameras and interrupted telecast have all contributed to the ever-growing resentment amongst the I-League fans. The step-motherly treatment by the All India Football Federation is there for everyone to be seen but unfortunately the I-League clubs are caught in a pickle having agreed to the DSport deal.
Such is the power and influence of the Indian Super League that the DSport corundum is unlikely to end in the near future. So fans will just have to make-do with the shoddy production and hope the next summer will be better.
A lot of things have changed in Indian football in the past few years but the importance of having a big striker up forward remains the same. 32-year-old Willis Plaza has been unstoppable for Churchill Brothers who find themselves on top of the I-League table. The attacking duo of Henry Kisekka and Marcus Joseph has been equally lethal for Gokulam Kerala FC (another team who have won all their matches) while the likes of Real Kashmir (Gnohere Krizo) and Aizawl FC (Abdoulaye Kanoute) have all gone the same route.
The height is often important because most of these rely on wing-play which means a lot of crosses for forwards to attack. Height will definitely be a big advantage in these situations. Indian central defenders are also prone to errors, especially in aerial duels, which means a forward line is bound to get a chance or two if they continue to play in those crosses.
While the likes of Chennai have shown the possibility of another route to goals but don't be surprised if the above mentioned players end up as top scorers this season.
Mohun Bagan were dominant in their match against Churchill Brothers, bossing the possession (71%), but eventually the Goan team came out on top, winning the match 4-2. That sums up Bagan who look pleasing to the eye but doesn’t have the cutting edge to win the league.
Just went through the stats for MB v Churchill. Possession really doesn't matter huh? pic.twitter.com/FW2MsbesgW— Kalpanthu (@KalPanthu) December 8, 2019
The situation with their arch-rivals East Bengal isn’t very different with the team drawing their first two matches. This isn’t what you’d normally expect from the Kolkata giants but in certain ways the slump is justified. The summer has been a period of chaos for most I-League clubs but forced relegation into a league two, sponsors pulling out and top players (like Jobby Justin) moving to ISL clubs. The new recruits aren’t exactly the kind who can catapult the side to top places and it does look like that the clubs are confused as to what to do.
Both clubs are very important institutions for Indian football and one can only hope this is a minor blip and they will be back in full strength soon.
The audience is back
The telecast might be horrible but the love for football means audience have been thronging the stadiums in large numbers. Gokulam Kerala FC saw more than 31000 people turn up at the stadium for their first match of the season in Kozhikode while the likes of Aizawl FC and Neroca have also impressed with the audience turnout.
Yet another Big I-League Season Opener- Aizawl FC vrs Mohun Bagan today which ended goalless draw.— Robert Romawia Royte (@robertroyte) November 30, 2019
Very satisfied with performance of my Academy new graduates against Goliathic players of MB.
Go Go Aizawl FC⚽️ pic.twitter.com/W4KEzOIckW
The massive turnout is also a testimony to how well these I-League clubs connect with their locality. The club is matter of pride in Aizawl or Imphal just as it is in Kozhikode.
We need both ISL and I-League
The plethora of talent on display in the I-League once again showed how we need the teams playing top division football for the sport to grow in the country. The Indian Super League brought in professionalism, better infrastructure and facilities, and spectator-friendly broadcast but the I-League clubs have their charm too. They play a vital role in the football ecosystem, especially in talent identification and development, and it is important that these clubs are given a fair shot.
The Indian Arrows is another big example of how the I-League can be a big platform for young footballers trying to make a step up into the professional circuit. All stakeholders need to come together, sort out their differences and prioritize football if the sport is to grow in the country.