I-League & Indian Super League (Review)

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We take a close look at India, one of the youngest football leagues in the world, yet one of the most innovative ones when it comes to football competitions.


Interestingly, India has two (2) top tier football leagues: I-League and Indian Super League (ISL), based on franchise system and is about to start in October 2014. Both competitions are recognized by All India Football Federation, India’s governing football body (federation).


I-League is the top tier football division in the country with 10 clubs competing in a relegation-promotion system where the second tier is represented in the I-League 2nd Division. First division is currently known as the Airtel I-League after the general sponsor.

Only one winner was not based in Goa

Since the league began back in 2007, 21 clubs competed in it and four clubs have won the title of champions. The teams to have won the title are Bengaluru FC (1), Churchill Brothers (2), Dempo (being the most successful with 3 titles), and Salgaocar (1).

The title has only been won once by a team from outside of the state of Goa with the first six of seven editions of the league being won by Goan clubs. The current champions of the I-League are Bengaluru FC.

Indian I-League

Country: India
Confederation: AFC
Founded: 2007
Number of teams: 10
Level on the pyramid: 1
Domestic cup: Federation Cup, Durand Cup
International cup: AFC Champions League, AFC Cup
Current champions: Bengaluru FC
Average range of annual salaries (v €): 60,000€ – 85,000€
Transfer window (dates): 8th June – 31st August (domestic), 16th January – 15th February (domestic), 1st January – 31st December (foreign)
Season duration: September – April (2013) / January – May (2014/2015)
Number of allowed foreign players (per team): 4 slots, 1 of them has to be from another AFC country
Number of foreign players: 33
Average stadium attendances: 5,618

Due to the league still being in the developing stages the rules have changed almost yearly, last year for example there were 13 teams competing. With the launch of Super League this year, I-League is pushed and starts in December and ends in May (opposed to last year when it started in mid September), with teams playing 18 matches each, totalling 90 matches in the season. Most games are usually played in the afternoons during the weekends or midweeks.

I-League Teamsindian_i_league_first_division_football_league_trophy

Bengaluru FC
East Bengal
Mohun Bagan
Royal Wahingdoh
Shillong Lajong
Sporting Goa

Most football clubs in India are formated as what is known as Institutional teams and since 21st February of 2014 these teams are not allowed to play in the I-League. This means that players and staff from an institutional team mostly aren’t full professionals and often work a full-time job outside the game for the company his team is sponsored by.

The positives of this kind of system is that players are earning a decent wage and have a prospect of employment after their footballing career comes to an end. The negatives though are that teams mainly represent their company and not cities or regions which means it’s difficult for them to gain broad support and since India is working heavily in the direction to bring worldwide attention to their football this does not bode well.

Two domestic and one foreign transfer window

Teams are allowed to sign players during three transfer windows where two domestic last from 8th June to 31st August and from 16th January to 15th February and one foreign that lasts for the whole year. Transfers in India are mostly done on the national level as almost 90% of all transfer business is done between the Indian teams.

The average salaries range from 60,000€ – 85,000€. There are currently 33 foreign players in the I-League while every team is allowed to have 4 foreigners where 1 of them has to be from another AFC country.

I-League Transfers

Between I-League teams or other Indian teams with I-League teams: 89%
From abroad to I-League: 9%
From I-League to abroad: 2%

International transfers
To I-League (from countries):
Spain: 37,5%
Portugal, Australia, Iran, Trinidad and Tobago, Cameroon: all 12,5%

From I-League (to countries):
New Zealand, Singapore: both 50%


There’s another requirement for the teams of the first division that was announced in May of 2014 and also goes with the policy of making football in India more popular: Every club in the I-League must have at least one marquee foreign player on their team. Where marquee means that that player represented his country in an international competition (FIFA World Cup, European Championship, AFC Asian Cup etc.), has played for his club team in a top international competition (UEFA CHampions League,  AFC Champions League etc.) or has played in a top domestic league (Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga etc.)

Indian Super League

The Indian Super League (ISL), officially known as the Hero Indian Super League for sponsorship reasons, launched in October 2014 and is one of the top divisions beside the already described I-League. It was founded in 2013 with the purpose of making football a top sport in India and bringing international attention to the Indian football.

UPDATE: Atlético de Kolkata are the first Indian Super League Champions!

Indian Super League (ISL)

Country: India
Confederation: AFC
Founded: 2013
Number of teams: 8
Level on the pyramid: 1
Season duration: October – December
Number of allowed foreign players (per team): at least 7 foreigners (5 from draft) and one from another AFC country
Famous foreign players: David Trezeguet, Robert Pires, David James, Freddie Ljungberg, Luis Garcia, Alessandro Del Piero, Joan Capdevila, Manuel Friedrich

Super league features eight franchise teams from all over India who participate in a three months long competition lasting from October to December with the finals series deciding the champion.

The league uses a franchise system

Unlike the majority of football leagues around the world and it’s fellow I-League, the ISL does not use the promotion and relegation system but a franchise system in which eight teams will be created to participate in the league.

ISL Teams

Atlético de Kolkata
Delhi Dynamos FC
Kerala Blasters FC
Mumbai City FC
NorthEast United FC
FC Pune City


Every team in the ISL has to sign at least one marquee player while they must also sign at least seven other foreigners. Of these seven foreign players, only two can be signed directly by the club with the other five coming from the foreign player draft which will happen through August. Each team is also required to have 14 Indian domestic players, where four of them have to be local players from the city a team comes from.

Country’s Lifestyle

Country population: 1,210,193,444
Language: Hindi, English
Average salary (€): 250€/month
Tax rate (gross vs net): 0%, 10%, 20%, 30%
National currency (value in € and $): Indian rupee (INR) = 0.012€ = 0.016$
Average temperature, humidity and rainfall during the season: 21.7C, 63%, 25mm
Food:  Chicken and mutton meat, potatoes, rice, lots of spices
Most popular sports: cricket, football, field hockey, badminton
Transport: Domestic flights between all major cities

Football stars will now play in India

A project to bring international attention to Indian football the Super League has started with some of the biggest stars of world football signing for the teams in the competition. Spaniard Luis Garcia who’ve won the Champions League while playing for Liverpool has signed for Atlético de Kolkata, former World Champion and Juventus’ great David Trezeguet will play for FC Pune City while former Spanish and English internationals Joan Capdevila and David James will join NorthEast United FC and Kerala Blasters FC respectively. Former Arsenal players Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg have also agreed to join the ISL’s clubs FC Goa and Mumbai City respectively, while Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero will play for Delhi Dynamos FC. The League also attracted some reputable managers (coaches), such as Zico (FC Goa) or Peter Reid (ex-Sunderland and Leeds boss) who will take over Mumbai City.

You can read an article explaining how is it like to be a football player in India here.

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