The Football Retirement Home: MLS to India


Up until a few seasons ago, the footballing retirement home was based in America and the MLS in particular for ageing footballers to end their careers, and in a way it impacted the league as many saw the league in such a way which harmed it’s reputation. Beckham finished his career there but gained much attention for the league, while other failing footballers such as Obafemi Martins also crossed to play for Seattle. Now however, their seems to have been a huge change!

A couple of very successful players have gone to the MLS now in what is probably the prime of their careers. Sebastian Giovinco is now playing there, which baffled many as the ex-Juve could have stayed in Europe. Others have crossed the channel who were also good enough to remain in Europe’s elite leagues – Pirlo, Gerrard, Lampard and many more. However – a new league has popped up and all the oldies are swanning off there to earn their final lump sums – but who exactly, and where?

IPL Inspires ISL

The IPL (Indian Premier League) has taken cricket by storm, with the franchised tournament occurring once a year for a couple of months – and has easily become one of the biggest events in world cricket. It is easily done as most players are only scheduled to play for their counties (in England) between April and September – while most counties will agree to let their star players go over and play – and unless there are national duties to fulfil there are no problems from cricket boards – so we see the likes of England captain Eoin Morgan play over there.

This has inspired the system to be tried on football in India (Indian Super League) – but it has turned out to be much more difficult. It plays out between September/October to December, which is mid-season for most leagues – and while there are massive contracts flying  about for the biggest players in cricket – in football players are tied to teams at all times unless they are to be loaned, which for most of Europe is not allowed at this time. Due to this, only a certain type of player is available. Free transfers, or South American loans and that means one thing. Oldies, and lots of them!

Here is a list of current players in the 8 team league:

Florent Malouda, Roberto Carlos (P/M), Nicolas Anelka (P/M), Marco Materazzi (P/M), John Arne-Riise, Cedric Hengbart, Lucio, Elano, Helder Postiga, Adrian Mutu, Didier Zokora, Sanli Tuncay, Diego Colotto, Diomansay Kamara, Frederic Piquionne, Luis Garcia, Simao, Carlos Marchena, Roger Johnson and a tonne of Brazilians!

A few more lower league English players like Peter Ramage, Nicky Shorey, Chris Dagnall and Stephen Bywater are also playing there at the moment (there are a few English coaches) while since the start of it the likes of David Trezeguet, Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg have also appeared. It’s basically an old peoples home for footballers who are miles past their best!

Zico manages there at the moment, as does Roberto Carlos, Materazzi and Anelka (well, all player managers). David Platt currently manages a side – but all would struggle to get managing jobs in high level European leagues. Carlos was last managing Sivasspor and Akhisar in Turkey before taking up this chance after leaving both.

MLS – Gaining Interest and Quality

Now, go back to the MLS and you find an array of vastly talented footballers going there at a point in their career where they could still compete at the highest level. Giovinco was one, and there are loads more!

Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane, Gio Dos Santos, Didier Drogba, David Villa, Tranquillo Barnetta, Kevin Doyle, Nelson Valdez – all properly class players! Add in some like the Wright-Phillips brothers, Ivanschitz, Eric Torres, Iraola, Kei Kamara and then a few old boys like Bruno Cheyrou, Nigel Reo-Coker, Rob Earnshaw and Melano and you have a very good league of players. Then you take into account the likes of Dempsey, Bradley, Jones, Ethan Finley, Matt Besler and even some emerging talent like Zardes – and you have the make up of a very good league going forward. Players coming to the end of contracts will think more about going there as they know the quality is getting better each season and with plenty of money on offer – it will become more viable.

Can the ISL learn from the MLS?

Yes – that it will take a long time to build up a league to rival their IPL structure. A 2 month ‘Pop-up Season’ may well attract the best of the out of contract/free transfers as the money on offer for such a short season is too good to turn down, but outside of that nobody else will be that interested as they would prefer a regular income and stay in the better leagues. Although parts of India are beautiful – the constant heat and even language barrier will be issues and reasons players might see not to leave for the newly formed league.

Cricket was an easy nut to crack, as the money in cricket is peanuts compared to football – so if the makers of the league thought it would become as successful in such a short period they were wide of the mark. Like the MLS, it will take decades to get it to a standard where it will be a viable career option – so until then I’m afraid they will be left picking up the has-beens and previously retired players.

There, for me at least – would be the stigma of what others thought of you for going there. Clearly anyone there is going to be earning a lot of money and when you are a world renowned player like Roberto Carlos dropping down to managing in a new league after failing in low level European leagues you must appear desperate. Same goes for the likes of Lucio and Marco Materazzi, while Nic Anelka has no shame really as he goes wherever the money is.

Is the Future bright for the ISL?

Not really, but as long as there is money in the league you will always find a pool of players willing to go there to earn a few million for a couple of months work. The season is too short for full-time players to consider signing unless it was an organised loan, but with the timing of the season it makes it hard for it to happen. A bit like the Chinese, Japanese and even the likes of the Uzbekistani league – where Rivaldo went for a short spell – these leagues will never fully take off as it would take a huge dip in interest in the mainstream leagues to happen, and with so few players of interest – the only place it will succeed is in India. The attendances seem good, and they are pulling a few big name charlies from yesteryear to entertain and teach the upcoming youth in the country.

So in short – the only success I see coming out of it is an improvement in the quality of the Indian national football team, but as a competition it will fail to inspire many.

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