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All about the Indian Super League (ISL)

Indian Super League Logo

Also called the Hero Super League, the Indian Super League is India's premier football league. Organized by the All India Football Federation, the ISL was founded on 21 October 2013.

Currently, the League matches take place from November to March. Each team has to play against all the others in a round-robin format. The team with the highest points gets the League Winners Shield. But the action doesn't stop here. The top four teams then proceed to the playoff stage, which determines the finalists. The ISL season culminates in the Finals, with the winning team getting the ISL trophy.

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    The Background of the ISL

    The ISL was launched to popularize football in India. Though this league started in 2013, the first ISL match took place only in 2014. Initially, the ISL season lasted for only three months and followed the IPL format. There were eight teams, and matches took place daily. However, the ISL wasn't recognized by AFC, football's governing body in Asia.

    Things changed before the 2017-18 season, when two more teams were inducted into the ISL. Now the AFC also recognized this football league, whose duration increased from three to six months.

    As things stand, the league winners participate directly in the AFC Champion's League. Also, the ISL champion goes directly to the AFC Cup qualifiers. In the subsequent sections, we will note the key milestones of the Indian Super League.

    Birthing the idea

    While Indians have been playing football since the late-19th century, the idea of giving a professional touch to the sport came only in the latter part of the 20th-century. India had a National Football League that aimed to professionalize the sport, but failed in its mission.

    Ten years later, in 1996, the AIFF founded the I-League to give football a professional look. However, bad planning and marketing caused the failure of this league. This failure didn't stop the AIFF from signing a 10-year media deal with Zee TV in December 2006. Zee TV is a premier TV entertainment company in India. This deal envisaged promoting the National Football League and I-League matches via the ZEE TV network. However, this deal failed in 2010, due to various business reasons. The same year, AIFF announced a 15-year deal with Reliance Industries and the International Management Group.

    Reliance Industries is a premier business organization in India with interests in oil, textiles, retail, and telecommunications. The International Management Group or IMG is a global sports and talent management company based in New York. IMG is owned by Endemol since 2013.

    Laying the foundation

    Finally, in October 2021, the AIFF announced the launch of the Indian Super League. It had the backing of Reliance-IMG and Star Sports. The first season was planned to begin in January 2014, but the date shifted to September of the same year.

    In April 2014, the AIFF announced the eight winning bidders of the various ISL teams. Every team represented a city or state. These regions were Goa, Kolkata, Kochi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Guwahati, and Pune. Several sport and film personalities participated in the bidding process. The winners were Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, who won the Kochi and Kolkata franchises, respectively. Ganguly partnered with La Liga side Atlético Madrid to win Kolkata.

    John Abraham, Ranbir Kapoor, and Salman Khan, all film personalities, won the Guwahati, Mumbai, and Pune regions, respectively. While Bangalore and Delhi were won by corporate entities, the Goa franchise was taken up by a consortium comprising Videocon, Salgaocar, and Dempo.

    May 2014 saw the launch of the first ISL team, Atlético de Kolkata (ATK). ATK signed Antonio Habas as its coach. A former defender in the Spanish football team, Habas is now the coach of ATK-Mohun Bagan.

    The ISL management eventually announced all the teams. These were Atlético de Kolkata, Delhi Dynamos, Bangalore Titans, Kerala Blasters, FC Goa, Mumbai City, Pune City, and NorthEast Ltd. In August 2014, Bangalore opted out of the ISL, and its place was taken up by Chennaiyan FC.

    The ISL also announced the original marquee players of the league. These were Luis Garcia, Elano, Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires, David James, Joan Capdevila, Freddie Ljungberg, and David Trezeguet.

    Inaugural match and winner

    The inaugural season started on 12 October 2014 at the Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata. Atlético beat Mumbai 3-0 in this match. Fikru Teterra from Ethiopia scored the first goal of the Indian Super League.

    The first Indian to score a goal in the ISL was Balwant Singh for Chennaiyan FC.

    Atlético won the first ISL season after beating the Kerala Blasters 1-0 at the D.Y. Patil Stadium, Mumbai.

    How the ISL has expanded

    We have seen that the ISL wasn't recognized as a league by the AFC and FIFA. In fact, the FIFA General Secretary said in 2014 that the ISL was a tournament and not a league. The only recognized league from India was the I-League. Non-recognition from these two bodies meant that the ISL players couldn't participate in key Asian club competitions.

    Despite non-recognition, ISL matches still attracted large crowds and TV viewership. The reason was simple: ISL marketed its matches and other events effectively. All this however didn't help the ISL to get into the annual football calendar. The AIFF tried solving this problem by shortening the I-League calendar. India head coach Stephen Constantine suggested that ISL and I-League either run together or merge in order to professionalize Indian football.

    In July 2017, the AFC accepted AIFF's recommendation to replace the Federation Cup with the ISL. It was also agreed that there would now be ten teams in the league. In September 2017, the ISL managers announced that the league duration would now be five months. Also, all the matches would be played between Wednesdays and Sundays.

    Meanwhile, Reliance Industries bought out IMG's share in the Football Sports Development Limited. FSDL is the operating agency of the Indian Super League. Following this acquisition, Reliance now holds 65% of FSDL's shares, while the balance is held by Star Sports.

    Prior to the 2020-21 season, ATK merged with Mohun Bagan to form ATK-Mohun Bagan. In September 2020, East Bengal joined the ISL as the eleventh team.

    The ISL Format

    Currently, the ISL season runs from November through March. Every season has two stages - League and Final. Every club plays two matches against every other club, one home, and the other away. A win has three points, a draw has one point, and there are zero points for a loss. The club with the most points receives the ISL League Winners Shield, while the top four teams advance to the finals.

    The semi-finals are played in a two-legged format. Teams play each other in their home venues. Clubs having the highest points move to the finals. If there is a tie, the team with more away goals wins the League. The finals are always held in a neutral stadium.

    Current and defunct clubs

    At the time of writing this article, the following clubs are a part of the ISL:

    • East Bengal
    • ATK Mohun Bagan
    • Bengaluru
    • Chennaiyan
    • Goa
    • Hyderabad
    • Jamshedpur
    • Kerala Blasters
    • Mumbai City
    • NorthEast United
    • Odisha

    Defunct clubs:

    • ATK
    • Pune City
    • Delhi Dynamos

    League winners

    So far, only four clubs have won the League Championships. These are:

    • Atlético de Kolkata in 2014 and 2016.
    • Chennaiyan in 2015 and 2017-18
    • ATK in 2019-20
    • Mumbai City in 2020-21

    Only two teams- FC Goa and Mumbai City- have won the League Winners' Shield. Goa won it in 2019-20, while Mumbai grabbed the Shield in 2020-21.

    Kerala Blasters and FC Goa have been runners-up twice. The Kerala Blasters were in second place in 2014 and 2016, while FC Goa were runners-up in 2015 and 2018-19.

      Top scorers

      At the time of writing this article, Coro from FC Goa is the top scorer with 14 goals. These goals came in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. The other top scorers are John Stiven Mendoza (Chennaiyan) and Marcelinho from Delhi Dynamos. They have scored 13 and 10 goals, respectively. Elano of Chennaiyan scored 8 goals in the 2014 season.

      Most appearances

      These players have had the highest number of appearances in all the ISL seasons:

      • Mandar Desai - 114 matches
      • Narayan Das - 109 matches
      • Lenny Rodrigues - 108 matches
      • Harmanjot Khabra - 105

      All these players are Indians, and have been playing in the ISL since 2014. The other top scorers are:

      • Pritam Kotai-99
      • Sandesh Jhingan-98
      • Sunil Chhetri-97


      The Indian Super League has morphed into an exciting football property. According to the official figures, the first ISL match drew an audience of 75 million. In fact, the first week of the first season attracted 120 million viewers, which was 12 times the total India viewership of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Overall, this season attracted 429 million viewers, which was twice the cumulative viewership of the FIFA World Cup. Women and children formed 57% of this figure. All this indicates the immense popularity of the Indian Super League, not just in India, but on a global level as well.

      Over the years, FSDL has tied up with several other major sports bodies and telecasters around the world. Lately, the ISL has also rolled out its eGaming product meant for the young audiences who consume sports digitally. The Indian Super League has a great future ahead.

      #football, #football betting

      Gian Chacko

      Sports enthusiast with love for cricket, football and sports in general. Holds 10+ years of following and writing about sports and lately also betting.