The duration of the Indian domestic football season has been a problem for a long time now. It is constantly spoken of that the players just do not get enough matches under their belt to be better footballers. Indian men's football team head coach Igor Stimac has been reiterating the same point.
The top division football in India, which is the Indian Super League (ISL), holds 23 matches which includes five playoff games. I-League, on the other hand, sees 20 games being played between 11 teams in a league format. Since the two leagues are played simultaneously, different players feature in the two leagues and get only 23 and 20 matches under their belt.
On top of that, ISL allows five foreign players to be fielded in the starting XI while I-League also allows five foreigners to be signed by a club. This reduces the opportunities for the Indian players further.
"I am feeling depressed and tired at repeatedly saying we have to reduce the number of foreign players in Indian domestic football. It will take time to grow up as a football nation, the season has to be longer for players to play much more games than now.
"We have been working behind closed doors on many aspects. We were also in touch with FSDL (Football Sports Development Limited) to increase the length of the season and also to have a long term calendar season plus the need to restructure the Durand Cup and the Super Cup.
"Going forward what will be crucial is the number of games. We cannot stop our season at the end of February and football needs to be played until mid-May. I am told that it cannot happen as it overlaps with the broadcast of the IPL but broadcast is not important, what is important is that players play more games to improve their football and bring more quality to the national team," Stimac told WION.
Stimac further stressed on the fact that if Indian-origin players are allowed to represent the national team, that would improve the results of the Blue Tigers.
"If the government can change the citizenship regulations then we can get 7-8 players of Indian origin who are playing abroad and that would change our results dramatically."
COVID DISRUPTS PLANS
Stimac joked that going by how long the pre-season is in India, players will not find it very difficult to adjust to the non-activity caused by the coronavirus lockdown.
"I was joking that if there is someone that will benefit from this Covid-19 break then it is Indian football as we are used to long breaks. We have a break of 6-7 months every year and we should not have a problem with injuries as the players are used to this pause", Stimac said.
However, he did go on to say that the pandemic has disrupted his plans to take the team for friendlies to Turkey and Croatia in April and May. But he was happy "that the players are all following individual training plans that we have sent them and communicating daily on our team groups."
Stimac said this was the right time for the Indian football structure to be altered.
"The pandemic could see certain rules and regulations be changed globally to rely on home grown players. This is the perfect opportunity for India to dramatically change the structure of Indian Football. Half the ISL clubs are facing financial difficulties and if all the clubs are not on the same level financially then what is the point of the competition. The competition is good only if everyone starts with the same amount of money and the same regulations," he opined.