Kolkata, October 21: With two head coaches yet to arrive and at least eight clubs awaiting their full complement of overseas players, Indian Super League (ISL) announced on Wednesday that the seventh edition would start on November 20.
“What is a cause of concern for us is the pending arrival of our remaining foreign players who are in the process of acquiring visas, post which they will have to spend two weeks in quarantine on arrival. This leaves them with just about a week or lesser before the competition begins,” said Mandar Tamhane, CEO of former champions Bengaluru FC.
Barring ATK Mohun Bagan, Hyderabad FC and FC Goa, no other team had its full complement of overseas players in India on the day ISL announced its start date. Bengaluru FC are awaiting two, for twice winners Chennayin FC that number is five. Teams are allowed to sign a maximum of seven foreigners.
Chennaiyin FC are also waiting for new head coach Csaba Laszlo to arrive as are Odisha FC who have appointed Stuart Baxter.
To minimise the impact of Covid-19 on India’s premier football league, 2020-21 ISL will be played in Goa with 11 teams after SC East Bengal were added. That means 115 games instead of the usual 95 including play-offs if the dual-leg league format of the past six seasons is adhered to. Barring Bengaluru FC, teams are either quarantining or have started training in Goa.
While the announcement to ‘mark’ the calendar for kick-off has been made, there is no clarity on the format for ISL7. E-mails to the league seeking a response stayed unanswered till Wednesday evening. “Whenever club officials ask the league about the format, they are told there will be no changes as of now,” said an official of a franchise. The official requested anonymity given the sensitive nature of the issue.
If the old format is stuck to, ISL7 could run till March, 2021. That could mean a further problem for FC Goa, ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC who will represent India in the Asian Champions League and the AFC Cup in 2021.
While this year’s AFC Cup, the continent’s second-tier competition, was cancelled citing force majeure by the executive committee of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the Asian Champions League restarted in September and is being held in Qatar with the final scheduled for December 19.
According to the AFC schedule for 2021 on its website, next year’s Asian Champions League, where FC Goa will play, is scheduled in February and the AFC Cup, where ATKMB will play in the main round, in March. Bengaluru FC will play the AFC Cup qualifiers which are scheduled in February.
“We are waiting for instructions from ISL and AFC on how they intend to manage that for us,” said Ravi Puskur, director of football, FC Goa. “We are waiting for clarity from the league at the moment,” said Tamhane.
Asked about this, AFC official Issac Christian Danielson told this paper on e-mail: “Similar to our approach at the beginning of this pandemic, the AFC is currently working on the new calendar for 2021 in close coordination with our Member Associations and relevant committees. While it remains speculative at the moment to project the possible scenarios in 2021, the outcome of COVID-19 has not only strengthened the resolve and unity of our Member Associations, it has also taught us to be flexible and to adapt quickly to the ever-evolving nature of this pandemic.”
In September, AFC general secretary Windsor John said he didn’t rule out having the 2021 Champions League at a centralised venue. Should that happen during ISL7, it would mean FC Goa exiting one bio-secure bubble and entering another. It could add to the challenge of framing the schedule for ISL7. (Courtesy: HT)