The ISL or Indian Super League is a premier football organization. It is one of the two top football bodies, the other being the I-Liaison. The Indian Super League is managed by the All India Football Federation and the Football Sports Development Limited. Since the main sponsor of the ISL is Hero Motors, therefore, this body also goes by the name Hero Indian Super League. If you haven't read much about the ISL, please keep reading this article.
Indian Super League
Laying the foundations
Though India has a long football tradition, the first national league came into being only in 1996. Readers will be delighted to know that India's football tradition goes back to the late 19th century. In fact, the Durand Cup, the country's premier football tradition started way back in 1888.
In 2006, the All India Football Federation reformatted the National Football League and titled it I-League. This initiative failed because of poor marketing. The same year, the National Football League got a fresh breath of life thanks to a 10-year deal between the AIFF and Zee Corp. This commercial agreement, however, couldn't survive beyond 2010 because of differences between the two parties.
Now that the Zee deal had collapsed, the AIFF began scouting for a new marketing partner. It found its new sponsor (Reliance Industries) in 2010, and the same year, the AIFF signed a 15-year, 700 crore deal with the Ambani entity.
The ISL finally came into existence on 21 October 2013. It was launched by Reliance-IMG, Star Sports, and All India Football Federation. IMG, formerly the International Management Group, is a premier sports management company and is headquartered in New York.
The first teams
May 2014 saw the launch of the first ISL franchisee, Atletico de Kolkata. On May 7 the same year, the ISL announced the appointment of Antonio Habas as the first coach in the league's history.
Finally, the AIFF announced the initial eight teams of the ISL. These were Atletico de Kolkata, Delhi Dynamos, Bangalore Titans, FC Goa, and Kerala Blasters. The other teams were Mumbai City, NorthEast Limited, and Pune City. A few days later, Bangalore walked out of the league because of commercial reasons. The ISL awarded its place to Chennai which was ultimately titled Chennaiyan FC.
There are 11 teams in all, the other three being Odisha, Hyderabad, and Jamshedpur.
The inaugural season
Athletico de Kolkata played the first match of the inaugural season on October 12, 2014. In that match, they defeated Mumbai City 3-0. While the first goal was scored by Fikru Teferra, the first Indian to have scored a goal was Balwant Singh of Chinnaiyan FC. The final of this inaugural season was won by Athletico de Kolkata. This team defeated Kerala Blasters 1-0 at the DY Patil Stadium.
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Challenging times ahead
There was no recognition from the authorities for the ISL during the first three seasons. Neither the Asian Football Confederation nor FIFA recognized the Indian Super League. FIFA argued that the ISL was a tournament and not a league. It said that only the I-League was a proper league in its eyes. Due to this confusion, the ISL could not participate in various international leagues, such as the AFC League and the AFC Cup.
However, during the same period, the Indian Super League became a hugely popular tournament. This was made possible by excellent marketing, great production values, and innovative ticketing. Nevertheless, serious differences persisted between the workings of the Indian Super League and the I-League. But thanks to the intervention by the AFC, and other sporting bodies, the ISL and the I-League agreed to work together for the betterment of the sport. Before the start of the 2020-2021 season, Athletico and the football section of Mohan Bagan Sport merged, and gave rise to the Mohan Bagan Football Club. In September 2020, East Bengal became the 11th player of the Indian Super League.
Another development worth noting is the acquisition of the Indian operations of IMG by Reliance Industries. Currently, RIL holds 65% of IMG, while the rest is held by Star Sports.
ISL playing format
The ISL season takes place from October to March. There are two legs in every season, the league stage and the finals. The league matches take place from October to early March, while the finals take place in late March. Each team in a league plays two matches against all the members of the other league, once in the home stadium and the next away. A win is worth 2 points, while a draw fetches 1 point. There are no points for a loss.
The ISL finals have a two-legged rule. There are two semis, and the winners of these matches make it to the finals. Each semi-final is held twice (home team ground). Thus, there are 4 semi-final matches. The team that has the highest aggregate score moves to the final. If there is a tie, the team that has the higher away score reaches the final.
Please note that the finals are always played on neutral grounds.
Ownership of ISL teams
The ownership of ISL teams is similar to the IPL. Each team has an owner, who is either a businessman or a Bollywood celebrity. The bidding process for the ISL clubs was drawn up by Ernst and Young. After carefully evaluating all the criteria, the following people were selected as owners. These were Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and John Abraham. Football clubs, such as Athletico Madrid and Shillong Lajong are also proud owners of their teams.
The Hero of the League for the first season was Iain Blume. However, the Golden Boot was won by Elano, who scored 8 goals in that season. Chinnaiyan won the second season of ISL beating Goa in the 2015 final. Stiven Mendoza was the Hero of the League as well as the winner of the Golden Boot.
The next 3 tournaments were won by ATK, Chinnaiyan, and Bengaluru, respectively. ATK won the league championship in 2019-2020, but it was Mumbai which lifted the trophy in 2020-21.
There is no doubt that ISL has managed to catch people's attention. The 2016 season attracted 216 million viewers all over the country. Star Sports reported that more than 41 million viewers watched the 2016 finals. Rural India viewership was more than 101 million for the 2016 season. All this proves ISL is a popular football tournament. However, much more needs to be done for this premier event.