Let’s play a quick ‘where are they now’ game together. Where does Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler ply his trade? How about World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro? Hernan Crespo? If you answered India (without using Wikipedia) then you’re correct.
Premier League Soccer (PLS) launches next month, and it has attracted veritable who’s who of late 90’s, early 2000’s stars. The league is looking to follow in the tradition of many other ‘new leagues’.
From Qatar, to Australia, to China, these new leagues seek to sign up big name older stars to boost the leagues profile. Sometimes it has flourished to the firm establishment of a solid league (J-league), other times it has been nothing more than a flash in the pan, marketing driven failure (NASL). Which way the PLS goes remains to be seen, however there is one thing complicating the issue for the PLS, the I-league.
You see India already has a top flight league, one that has been running since 2007, and is itself a ‘new league’. Theoretically there should be no conflict as the PLS is a regional league for the state of West Bengal.
However there are many complicating factors. Although the PLS may theoretically not be in conflict with the I-league, it is clear it is seeking to usurp the league, in profile and entertainment, if not at the actual top of the league structure.
The I-League has few big names stars (unless you count former Rangers striker Alan Gow) and in truth its TV and attendance figures are low. It will not be hard for PLS to beat these figures. These league’s schedules also overlap, with the PLS running February to April and the I-League October to May.
It is another small sign that the PLS organisers are not scared to face the I-League directly.
However this does not mean things for the PLS will necessarily be plain sailing. The PLS is based in the state of West Bengal, India’s footballing hotbed. This state is already home to India’s ‘Big 2’ East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.
This should mean the area is prime location for a Football extravaganza, however EB and MB both have a loyal fan-base and it remains to be seen to what degree these fans will embrace the new teams, especially when the schedules clash. India is also a nation of regions, and Indians themselves proudly regionalist. Will those from outside West Bengal tune in? Probably, but these will be TV viewers, and whether they will actively support or take to heart any of these teams seems less likely.
The PLS will certainly be a show-piece, but long term, it seems it and the I-league will struggle to live alongside each other.
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