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Hero I-League 2019-20: Opening Weekend Talking Points

India’s football season is well and truly underway. Since we have been on about it for half a year, we watched all the games that TV allowed us to. From bore draws to technical glitches, it was all happening. Here’s our roundup for the main talking points from Week One.
Hero I-League 2019-20

DSport’s live broadcast of the game between Gokulam Kerala and NEROCA FC, scheduled on a prime time slot failed because of a technical glitch. (Image credit: AIFF Media)

The opening weekend of the I-League. After six months of ‘pre season’ finally the players get real game time. And the rustiness shows. Mohun Bagan vs Aizawl FC may have been the worst way to start a season in half a decade -- the two teams combined had three shots on target and committed 24 fouls -- but everything that followed has been as expected. Here are the talking points from the four games over the weekend.

The thing about late goals...

They make for great television. If there is one thing the I-League should learn from the ISL, it is that in India football needs to be good television. And television demands drama. In the 29 matches played so far in the ISL (stats true till KBFC-FCGoa game on December 1) 20 goals -- roughly a third of the total goals of the season -- have been scored in the final 10 minutes of the game. 12 of these goals directly affected the result. And in one game, which we shall call the ‘Water Derby’, Chennaiyin FC and Hyderabad FC played out a full ninety minutes without any goals before trading three in injury time. 

A variety of factors can be pinned to this happening. Fatigue, distracted minds, tired bodies, the list may go on. On the other hand, the national coach will look at this as further confirmation of his observation that ‘Indian football does not give up and fights till the last minute’. 

It is early days yet, but on the basis of the opening weekend, the I-League has not go down the late goal route. In the three games played over the weekend, there were zero goals in the last ten minutes. No drama. Lots of action.

And the glitches remain

There is a strong reason to believe DSport have gotten in way over their heads here. The second and arguably the biggest game of the weekend -- purely because it was scheduled to take place at ‘primetime’ 1900 IST -- wasn’t telecast live’. DSport’s broadcast partner Instat put this off as a ‘one-off’ due to ‘technical difficulties because of a minor glitch’. It is tough to say this without sounding cruel, but cancelling the broadcast of a scheduled football game due to technical glitches is punishable by execution. 

The glitch wasn’t limited to that one game, either. Gokulam vs NEROCA may not have had a broadcast at all, but the season opener also had its fair share of glitches. At one point the feed cut away to a Paris Saint Germain game. If you had stepped away at the exact time for a pee break and come back to the screen, you’d have been startled at how similarly paced the gameplay was. 

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Over the past two seasons the AIFF have made no secret of their preference for the ISL over the I-League for broadcasting. A part of this is down to the fact that the broadcasters of the ISL are coincidentally part of the consortium that owns it. Last season’s I-League was shoddily broadcast with a minimum budget, a lack of even basic camera angles to enhance the viewing experience and by January some matches were dropped altogether from the TV broadcast. Approximately 80 of last season’s 110 matches went on live TV. This season was supposed to be different. A new broadcaster, procured after negotiations had pleased most owners and teams. Its was a fresh start. 

Three matches in, though, not much has changed. The quality of the broadcast itself remains shoddy. The broadcasters promised an eight camera set up for the matches but it’s tough to see what ‘enhanced viewer experience’ this is adding. The lack of an online streaming platform is going to push younger audiences further into the arms of the ISL and confirm the I-League as a second grade league. Which it now, of course, is.

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Try telling the competition that

Football is supposed to be played on the pitch and every team is equal when the game kicks off. It’s a nice theory. But the truth is in leagues across the world the difference between the top, the middle and the bottom is being pulled further and further apart. Finances, resources, wage bills all contribute to this. If there is one thing that is pretty secure the moment the I-League starts is that every team kicks off on an even footing. This was confirmed by how Chennai City, the defending champions, had to struggle to break down the newly promoted TRAU FC in their season opener. 

This is true for the ISl too, where teams are pretty much even keel -- in fact it is also fair to call the ISL a luxury version of the I-League -- but this season the difference between ATK and the newly inducted Hyderabad FC, after six games is already 7 points. But the bigger problem is that Hyderabad have a goal difference of -8 and ATK +7. 

Unfair to make predictions based on four games of a long season ahead, but none of the clubs from the Northeast look capable of mounting a definitive challenge for the title. For NEROCA this is a season of transition. They lost their chief investors, the Classic group, at the end of last season and are operating on a tight budget this year. Aizawl have made no bones about their bare situation and have a team stacked with enough local talent to make the Senior nationals look like a joke. TRAU are the new boys. Which means they can probably go on a serious title run. Only three teams are left to turn up right now, two of whom are considered title contenders. Good, then, that they play each other first up. Real Kashmir vs East Bengal will be the game to really kick start the season. Hopefully DSport can get all their cameras pointing and working in the right direction.

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