The All India Football Federation (AIFF) had announced that the 2020-21 I-League season would see the return of the traditional AFC rule, which allows a maximum of four foreigners in the roster, including a signing from an AFC-affiliated nation.
The Apex body has also asked the Indian Super League (ISL) to implement the same rule from the 2021-22 season.
For the 2019-20 season, I-League clubs could sign up to six foreigners, with five of them allowed on the pitch at any given time during a game. The return of the 3+1 foreigner rule will have their pros and cons, so let’s straight get into it.
A larger Indian player pool
The Indian national team coach, Igor Stimac has been stressing on the need of formalizing a more extensive national team pool.
He is one of the primary advocates for the reduction of foreigners in the I-League and the Indian Super League.
Lesser number of foreigners will allow Indian players to get their chances and use the increased game-time to their benefit.
Indian players will primarily profit from this move, especially when it comes to opportunities and prospects in the first team.
Indian forwards will get their chances
Only a single Indian name managed to feature in the top 10 goalscorers’ list in I-League 2019-20. Rochharzela (Aizawl FC), who primarily plays as an attacking midfielder behind the forwards, managed to finish in 10th position on the scoring charts with six goals in the season.
The dependency on foreign strikers to notch up goals has been a deterrent against Indian strikers managing to get primary roles on the pitch.
The systematic ignorance of Indians in attacking roles has resulted in a depleted player pool of India with limited striking options.
The reduction in foreigners in I-League will allow the clubs to believe in their Indian striking options, which would be beneficial for the Indian football player pool on the longer run.
Versatile team building coupled with a larger budget
Reducing the count of foreigners in the squad will allow teams to spend maturely and discreetly on the Indian roster.
An average top-notch overseas signing cost around INR 50-60 lakhs per season in the I-League.
With the larger player pool available courtesy the dual-league system, clubs will be able to get a wide range of Indian players with the extra budget in their kitty.
The average salary of a foreigner is slated to increase, forcing clubs to look for options in positions that would provide a considerable amount of tactical superiority and versatility.
Clubs are likely to focus on value-laden overseas signings with a more significant average overseas budget.
Possible drop in quality
It is a no brainer that Indian footballers are not at par with the foreigners who ply their trade in India.
Most Indian players lack fundamental basics, technicalities, and nuances when dealing with the ball on their feet.
I-League clubs had their initial jump in foreigners in the 2017-18 season to five in the squad after the top clubs in the division demanded a level-playing field with the Indian Super League clubs.
The spike in the quality was evident when teams from the I-League stunned quite a few ISL sides in the inaugural edition of the Super Cup.
The reduction of foreigners will result in Indian footballers missing out on the presence of sturdier and technically gifted foreigners on the field and may not be able to inculcate certain valuable skills.
Adaptability in Asia
After the likes of East Bengal and Dempo SC reaching the AFC Cup semi-finals, followed by Bengaluru FC finishing as runners-up, Indian clubs were expected to continue the consistency and dominance in the continental competition.
However, the increase in foreigners never allowed the Indian clubs to switch strategically and tactically to a 3+1 setup from a five foreigner I-League setup.
Clubs could not adjust to continuous changes in the line-ups as the domestic league, and Asian club competitions continued to happen simultaneously, resulting in a spree of disappointing results, with Aizawl FC and Minerva Punjab failing to even get out of the group stages, while both Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC exited the competition in the qualifiers.
The abrupt fall in performance in continental competitions showed how exactly the high number of foreigners in domestic football influenced the style of play and tactics for the same I-League sides in Asia.
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