Former Premier League manager John Gregory believes that the decision to extend the domestic football calendar to nine months will bring Indian football in line with European countries and it will be beneficial for coaches and players, even club administrators and fans.
Gregory, who helped Chennaiyin FC win the ISL title in 2018 said, “For coaches, players, and club administrators having the season stretched out over nine months is a much better format. It will be tremendously exciting for everyone to be involved in a long-term project. As a coach or player, I would be incredibly excited about playing the season spread across nine months. It will give you good recovery time after each game and with that should come better performances from your players and obviously more time for coaches to implement their ideas and philosophies on the training pitches."
Gregory spent two and a half seasons at Chennaiyin FC after joining the club in 2017. The Englishman lauded the growth of the sport in the country ever since his introduction to Indian football.
“The season now will be more in line with the type of season that Europe experiences. I don’t doubt the future of football in India. I’ve seen it myself since 2017 grow and grow. The game has captured the imagination of the people incredibly well, particularly since the ISL was introduced and world-class players have come to the country and paraded their talents. The season expanding to nine months is a bold step," said Gregory.
Along with the two leagues - ISL and I-League, clubs will also feature in two cup competitions, the Durand Cup and the Super Cup. Gregory feels that the additional opportunities will aid in the development of players, instilling a winning mentality.
“More silverware on offer! Your career is often judged on how many cups, titles, or caps you won during your time as a player. So more competitions mean more chances of medals. As you develop as a young player you want to be involved in these big challenges. Playing in Semi-Finals and Finals is important for your development as we saw last season in the ISL for players such as Rohit Danu, Akash Mishra, Liston Colaco, and Kiyan Nassiri. They will have gained huge knowledge and experience playing in the kind of environment they faced last season. They will also understand that when you are in professional football. winning is the only thing that matters and you have to do everything in your power to make sure that happens," the 68-year-old said.
Gregory believes the longer season will give coaches further opportunities to invest in youth and unearth talents for Indian football. Gregory cited the example of fellow Briton Owen Coyle who in his second season at Jamshedpur FC, won the League Shield featuring a youth-heavy squad.
“Owen Coyle last season at Jamshedpur was superb in developing unknowns in his squad and giving them chances to play in ISL. Young and also unknown players cannot ignore the fact that football can give you a wonderful chance in life to be somebody. Narender, Rehenesh, Ricky, Boris, and Ritwik Das all suddenly became first choice for Owen because they all took the chance that the coach gave them."
“Head Coaches are now starting to trust the domestic players. More and more players are developing early and taking their chance to play the beautiful game. Many parents are now discovering that professional football can give their son or daughter an amazing life. Education is still extremely important of course but 5-6 years playing in ISL and the Indian National Team can set you up for life financially if you’re prepared to dedicate yourself to the game work extremely hard and take your chance," Gregory said.