Super leagues’ impact in Asia

A new, lucrative Indian football league is in town but how beneficial are these leagues to the continent’s rise?

The presence of former greats is set to aid football's rise in India [AFP]

Talk of super leagues is in the Asian air.

There is a national one about to start in India, a south-eastern regional competition planned for 2016 and the discussion have started on a continent-wide tournament at some point in the future.

All – real, planned or imagined – are supported, or not, for various reasons and it remains to be seen if they can be the solution to the issues that are holding the continent, and country, back.

For India, it is about trying to get the subcontinent excited about the world’s favourite game. That seems to be working, for now at least. The Indian Super League (ISL) kicks off on October 12 and has already captured the attention of the subcontinent and the rest of the world in an unprecedented manner.

Asian conglomerates are now financing the flawed financial model of European football instead of financing their own leagues to compete and create our own competitive level

by Craig Foster, Former Australia international

The I-League is still the country’s professional league and has been since 2007 but the ISL runs for ten weeks and eight new franchises will compete for the inaugural title.

Short and sweet

Such is the population in India and its growing affluence and passion for the world game that it is no surprise there are moves to use glitz and glamor to engage. With names such as Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires, Nicolas Anelka and David Trezeguet among others, the media is going into overdrive.

The season may be short but is sweet, according to Steve Darby, assistant coach of Mumbai City.

“The contractual status of elite players prevents them from coming to India on a long-term basis and hence the short league could be a success in providing big names that boost the image of the game,” Darby told Al Jazeera.


One issue that super leagues have is how they work with the existing ‘non-super’ leagues, the bread and butter.

The I-League does not have the same financial backing or star power of the ISL, though is loaning many of its players to the eight clubs and has had to delay the start of its new season for the new kid on the block.

This is an issue to be addressed in south-east Asia that may see an ASEAN Super League as early as 2016. Darby, having worked in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand, sees the pros and cons of a regional tournament.

“The ASEAN league is logical as a step in the progressive development of the league, but the logistics could be so difficult as each nation has their own unique season and that would stop teams playing in other competitions. If teams left the local league and became franchises such as the ISL, it could lead to the downfall of the local league.”

Love vs achievements

For advocates, the ASEAN Super League is all about raising standards in a region where love for the game is high but achievements are not.

The prime mover is the chief of the Singapore FA: Zainudin Nordin headed a task force for the ASEAN Football Federation to look into the subject and plans are now awaiting FIFA’s approval.

The hope is that it will come and countries from the region will provide one or two representatives.

“After we have got the clearance, we are confident we are able to move this project forward, to ensure that we are able to come up with a very good quality professional league for the good of ASEAN,” Nordin had said in September.

A continent-wide competition is further into the future but there exist supporters of a massive super league that would help Asia compete with Europe on and off the field.

Thinking big

Craig Foster, former Australian international and a football analyst, believes that an Asian Super League offers the best chance of making clubs strong enough to help nations win the World Cup – just as Barcelona did with Spain in 2010 and Bayern Munich with Germany in 2014.

“Asian conglomerates are now financing the flawed financial model of European football instead of financing their own leagues to compete and create our own competitive level,” said the former Crystal Palace defender.

“Asian football needs to think big to become prominent, not subordinate. With the potential broadcast revenue, these teams could each attract the level of player from the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona and pay competitive wages.

“The finances generated are shared with domestic leagues as well as federations and invested in coaching and development to ensure the standard rises as quickly as possible.”

It all sounds very tempting. There will be many inside and outside India who watch the new league very closely indeed.

Source: Al Jazeera