The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Time we reverted to the old format

The Super Division League has at last come to an end. From July to November, it has been a long story with Mohammedan Sporting’s re-emergence as a title contender being the highlight. They badly needed the boost, having been relegated almost to a nonentity in recent years. Many people related to Indian football will be happy with this resurgence of one of the most popular clubs.

Apart from this, the Super Division has not offered anything of excitement and the football has hardly been noteworthy. Maybe the poor quality of football can be blamed on the absence of stars busy on national duty, but the IFA’s role, as usual, left a lot to be desired. Starting from the absurd policy of a play-off final to delaying things till so late, the state body has a lot of things to revive.

If officials are to be believed, the IFA has done one commendable job by spinning some good money out of the exhibition matches. It must be big encouragement for a body not synonymous with organisational efficiency, as generating revenue is one of the four essential activities of any sports organisation. But instead of tom-tomming the fact that they have made some bucks, the IFA should try and assess what has it has done about improving the standard of football, infrastructure and promoting the game. I don’t think they will be happy with their performance on these fronts.

To begin with, the IFA must do something about the time of the Super Division League. It starts in July with the noble hope that all matches will be over by the latter half of September. As it turned out, the play-off final had to be held back till mid-November. I understand that once it became clear a final is necessary, the clubs concerned had key players away on national assignments. But it also shows that the IFA was mighty sure that East Bengal will run away with the title, looking at the nine-point lead they had.

Such administrative short-sightedness is a peculiar feature of the IFA. Yes, the unforeseen will disturb the schedule once in a while, but the ambiguous absence of any back-up plan continues to amaze. Football in India is trying to break into the mainstream, and the IFA must stay alert so that it doesn’t miss the bus. As it is, the delay in completing the Super Division League and with the National League about to begin, the IFA has been forced to push back the IFA Shield to January.

To avoid a similar situation next season, people concerned must think of starting the Super Division earlier, preferably in May, so that it gives the top clubs time to breathe before the National League. Also, other tournaments like the IFA Shield can be held during the break before the National League. If the Super Division begins early, the players can also expect to play on better grounds, which turn unplayable with the onset of monsoon.

About the structure of the league, a play-off final in case of a tie for the top spot looks logical, but the ‘three-point difference between teams’ concept sounds weird. The charm of a league lies in its long grind, which calls for a lot of patience, calculation, and consistency. The team that shows these qualities in good amount normally emerges best, but by having a play-off final even without a tie at the top dilutes the intensity of a league. The IFA has stuck to this format for the last five years, and not even a handful has endorsed it. It’s time to shift back to the good old round-robin format.

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