When the Indian Super League began, there was a lot of hype about how this would change the shape of football in India. After all, there were so many big players coming, superstars all, who had set the world of football ablaze.
Sponsors lapped up the concept. Many of them had sons brought up on a diet of Premier League and World Cup football, so many purchasing decisions, I’m sure, were made at home.
We were told this was it. Can’t get any better since even the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were signing up!
We had Roberto Carlos, Marco Materazzi, Alessandro del Piero, Luciano, Nicolas Anelka, Robert Pires, David Trezeguet, the list was endless.
Soon, many of the ‘stars’ realised they were more burnt-out meteors than any celestial attractions. Some battled on gamely while others – like Carlos and Materazzi – played the smart card and became coaches.
All that is fine. After all, why wouldn’t people try to make money when it is being thrown around blindly? This isn’t about who is taking whom for a ride.
This is about the despicable manner in which the players are behaving on the pitch.
Wednesday night’s semi-final second leg between Atletico de Kolkata and Chennayin FC in Kolkata was everything that a match shouldn’t be in terms of discipline.
It was a miracle someone didn’t get seriously hurt. Chennai’s Elano was lucky not to be given marching orders.
On top of that, there were scraps galore all through the match and then some.
Atletico coach, Spaniard Antonio Lopez Habas received marching order towards the end of the match from the Japanese referee for practically shoving his fist down the assistant referee’s throat.
Then there is Fikru. A veteran of the ISL, the huge Ethiopian has obviously realised that he can practically get away with murder in this league, since there really aren’t any guidelines or penalties to worry him.
Fikru has been a bully, right from the first match of the ISL first edition. Much of it is gamesmanship, but there have been many shoving matches which have gone on while he has been in the field.
On Tuesday night, Delhi coach Roberto Carlos too took a broadside at the officials. It seems all the foreign players realise that this is basically a circus, so acting the clown doesn’t get them hauled up.
In contrast, there seems to be tacit approval for the players to go ahead and make things ‘exciting’, since the TV ratings otherwise are moderate.
Star Sports, the host broadcasters, believe in mixing the drama of their mediocre soap operas with sports, making it a bad combination of poor performances as footballers and worse as divas.
It cannot possibly be that every match has some issues regarding too much physical play, too many pushes and shoves off the ball, arguing with the officials and players going head-to-head like prize bulls.
FIFA has some very stringent rules about indiscipline, as can be seen in any professional league or nation-level tournament.
But even there, the violations have not evaporated. Every now and then, things boil over.
So to think that the ISL, which basically the FIFA isn’t bothered with at all (after all, these are just some retired blokes having a kickabout), would be sedate is really naive.
It is a miracle that no punches have been thrown yet. Unless, of course, all of it is stage-managed.
It is a little difficult to accept the ISL as a real thing. Sure, many players are really stretching every sinew, there also are those stars who have made an odd appearance and then tanked the rest of the tournament, citing injuries.
Does it help Indian footballer? A bit maybe, but to assume that they are going to become a great power simply because they are playing with some former internationals too is very innocent.
Unless we are ready to accept it all as a circus and let it pass. After all, it’s all about entertainment, as one doyen of the Indian Premier League has been heard repeating.
Also, if WWE or WWF can be allowed, don’t see why not the ISL.
But that said, please don’t ask us to accept it as a real test of footballing skills. It is rather more a band of rowdies pushing a ball around. And one another.