Aizawl FC is writing history for India. As much as by being the I-League table as a title triumph from amidst the giants, the pioneers, the kings, who have been in the folklore of football in India. The non-descript relegated entity’s journey from dust to throne is a day of reckoning for the sport Aizawl FC has played with distinction.
The clash to determine the I-League crown is a paradigm shift for Indian soccer. Traditionally it was Kolkata for soccer – Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan sporting. So deep rooted, and with such emotional connect that particular club’s win would determine which fish would sell more in Kolkata market. With corporate the balance started shifting towards Kerala and Goa. Then came the big pound business of leagues. Where money matters first. Then comes the show on the field. Where each penny is considered to be the deciding factor.
The I-League summit clash defies all factors – the tradition, the corporate sport, the big purse business of Leagues.
So. The big question now. Will the fairytale success of Aizawl change the face of Indian soccer? “Yes, there will be some impact and small teams will be inspired to invest in football and market might react positively to the high passion which is visible from small teams coming from North East and other cities,” Shaji Prabhakaran, Fifa regional development officer for Southern and Central Asia, told InsideSport. “But it all depends upon each of the clubs how they approach the market with a long-term plan and connect fans. On the whole, the win by Aizaw will certainly inspire in many ways.”
In the business of leagues, titles are decided much before the curtain comes down on the season. The big spenders with big names draw more attention. In this market-driven scenario, the little heralded Mizoram club, a supposedly non-starter for I-League this year, gets into the league decider needing just one point for crowning glory – ahead of defending champions cash rich FC Bengaluru, and traditional powerhouses Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
What does this success mean Aizawl FC in particular, Indian soccer in general. The possibility of absorbing I-League teams into ISL, the big bash of Indian soccer leagues, will be confined to Bengaluru, Bagan and East Bengal. The scenario for financially small teams remains dismal. Even the entities to carry soccer tradition in India – Bagan and East Bengal – are pleading to ISL for waiver of the proposed Rs 15 crore franchisee fee for IPL, as the number of teams is set to rise from eight to ten.
So, What will be the upcoming trends in the commercial market at a time when Indian football is preparing to abandon the very principles of egalitarianism? “I am not sure whether egalitarianism will be completely abandoned – whatever we hear today is all speculations and until the plan is confirmed of the new league structure I won’t like to comment on it. However, I am sure inclusive approach will be followed by the AIFF and there won’t be any situation where egalitarianism will be put to cold storage,” says Mr Prabhakaran.
The scenario is changing. North-East domination is there. It needed recognition. Aizawl success will ensure that. “North Eastern states have been very fond of football, but have been neglected for a very long time. There are as many as fifty to sixty players from Manipur who are playing the league, and the number will surely go up. North-East is the powerhouse for football. And the story of Aizawl says it all,” says Rennedy Singh, former India international and assistant coach of FC Pune City.
The win will ensure Aizawl an instant fame. Few better openings in the market. Some rise in team values. Better inflow on balance sheets. But beyond that it will have a long way to go. To make it to the next grade. Where entry is ensured big bucks, big goals only give hope for future. Some other day, some other time.
For Indian soccer there is a hope. There will be opportunities and avenues for Aizawl and Shilong Lajong’s. The success will drive market forces. The success wil inspire a generation to take the sport as a career option. With that widens the supply line for indigenous talent. With that broadens the base.
Coming Monday, Aizawl FC will be a reason for market to look at a new sporting horizon for investment. Aizwal FC will be a cause for excellence of soccer in smaller cities, away from the guarded confines of traditional soccer hubs.