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.