There is good news for Indian clubs after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) ratified All Indian Football Federation's (AIFF) request to hand an AFC Champions League spot to the Indian Super League (ISL) league-stage winners of the 2019-20 season. Moreover, the second-placed team along with the I-League winners will get a confirmed berth in the AFC Cup. This has ensured that India will have three representatives at the continental stage for the very first time.
While the top brass of AIFF must be applauded for their efforts in making the above arrangement a reality, they must now turn their attention to the existing foreigner players rule in the domestic competitions.
Currently, ISL allows you to register a maximum of seven foreign players, with five of them eligible to be on the pitch at any given point of time. Whereas, in I-League, a club can register a maximum of five overseas players and all of them can take part in proceedings at the same time.
The need of the hour is to restructure the foreign players' cap and follow the AFC guidelines pertaining to this matter.
Clause 28.1 in the AFC Champions League 2019 competition states that, "Each Participating Club may register four (4) foreign Participating Players, however, at least one (1) of these must have the nationality of an AFC Member Association."
Only a handful of clubs in ISL and I-League have a player who hails from an AFC Member Association. ATK have two players (David Williams, Dario Vidosic - both from Australia) in their squad, while Bengaluru FC (Erik Paartalu, Australia), and Chennaiyin FC (Masih Saighani, Afghanistan) have one each in their roster.
It is important that the ISL & I-League clubs get accustomed to playing with four overseas players as they will have to stick to the same resources while rubbing shoulders against the elite clubs in Asia.
Moreover, this will also ensure a better quality of players being recruited by the teams. The focus will be to get someone on board who can significantly improve the quality of the team and not just make up the numbers.
Some sections of the governing body have also suggested that an OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) player must be inducted to the squad should the team wish to add a fifth foreigner.
The AIFF has managed to do churn out three Asian spots for India and now they should take another step in the right direction by amending the foreign players' quota.