The Indian Super League (ISL) is currently in a transitional stage, with several changes in structure and requirements for eligibility in the works. The ever-changing footballing ecosystem is bound to impact clubs’ view on transfers and player contracts.
The reduction in the number of foreign players on the field to just four, which will be integrated soon is likely to have a profound effect on the contracts of Indian players. With an increase in demand for these players, clubs will look to tie the players to lengthy contracts, as opposed to the current scenario.
Indian football clubs rarely offer contracts longer than two-to-three years for any player. The overseas signings are well into their thirties and are hence handed out smaller contracts. It is often seen that clubs do not trust the players for a longer period of time and vice versa. The players are also not inclined to sign a long deal, given the constant changes in both ISL and I-League.
Bengaluru, Kerala Blasters, Mumbai City, Hyderabad and Odisha are the only clubs with at least one player contracted until 2023 or beyond.
The JSW-owned club expressed their faith in wingers Udanta Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan with lengthy contracts. India number one Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is also tied to the club in 2023. Given his consistent performances for club and country, this commitment by the club carries very little risk.
Jessel Carneiro impressed in his debut season in the ISL and this caused the Blasters to extend his contract until 2023. Nishu Kumar, who has joined the southern club has put pen to paper on a lengthy contract. The left-back was one of the bright spots for Bengaluru last season and is slowly registering himself as one of the most consistent Indian players in the league.
Hyderabad have Souvik Chakrabarti, Yasir Khan and Nikhil Poojary while Odisha have tied Vinit Rai, Nandha Kumar and Shubham Sarangi until 2023.
It’s interesting to note that most of these players are either wingers, goalkeepers or full-backs. This could be a consequence of how the ISL clubs view potential overseas signings. Most clubs prefer a foreigner as a striker, given that it is one of the most influential positions on the field. The lack of quality Indian strikers is another reason why clubs make it a priority to scout a top overseas marksman.
The same can be said about the centre-back position. The gulf in quality of the overseas centre-backs and Indians makes it an attractive option to reserve at least one of those slots for a foreigner.
It is hence, understandable why most of the players with lengthy contracts in the ISL play on the flanks. Additionally, most of these players are capable of playing on either side of the pitch, thus making themselves valuable assets in times of injuries and suspensions within the team.
That said, the demand for a top-rated, proven Indian striker or a centre-back will be extremely high, as has been the case with Sandesh Jhingan.
With top players in these positions tied with long contracts, the young prospects will start attracting eyeballs, with the ‘four foreigners’ rule in the starting XI set to kick i from 2021-22 season.
However, there is another side to this story. There is also the case of the clubs being reluctant in investing in a player for a longer period due to uncertain returns. Numerous times, such players have suffered injuries that have seen their seasons cut short and suffer massive dips in form.