CHENNAI: Wednesday saw the transfer window slam shut as various clubs wrapped up their buying and selling activity and finalised rosters. Football fans in the country checking last-minute moves their favourite European clubs made, would do well to realise that a transfer window closed in India as well. An analysis of the players that came to these shores does not make for pretty reading.
According to reports, the average age of the players that Indian Super League clubs brought in from around the world during the June-August transfer window is 29 — the oldest in the world. The numbers come from FIFA’s Transfer Matching System (TMS) and deals with only players brought in from international clubs. For example, an international player like Bernard Mendy, who will rejoin Chennaiyin FC from I-League outfit East Bengal, will not be taken into account.
The number is in keeping with those of the 2015-16 season when ISL and I-League clubs combined brought in 118 players with an average age of 28 years and 10 months over two windows. India was only pipped to the dubious honour of having the oldest foreign players in the world by Iran last year.
Going back an year further, triggered by the inaugural edition of ISL, Indian clubs brought in a whopping 131 players, the second highest such number in Asia, higher than established markets like China. The average age was 29 years and one month, once again the oldest in the world. FIFA, in its report on the year’s transfer activity, notes that the number would have been even higher, had ISL not struck a deal with Brazilian club Atletico Paranaense to bring in five of their players, all of them aged 22 and under.
The numbers were not always this bad, for in 2011, the average age of the foreign player in India was 24, according to a FIFA report. But while the ISL has more than its share of older stars, to blame it squarely for the drastic spike in foreign player ages would be unfair. The 36 foreign players, that I-League clubs had last year, had an average age of around 29, marginally higher than the overall number.
With the ISL planning to expand to a longer format next year, the focus on older big names, who are unlikely to last a full season, will have to change. Many ISL clubs have started adopting more conventional practices like retaining the majority of their players, but the capture of stars like 36-year-old Florent Malouda by Delhi Dynamos, 38-year-old Lucio by FC Goa and 37-year-old Diego Forlan by Mumbai City SC indicates that some habits die hard.
Viren D’Silva, CEO of Kerala Blasters, believes that comparing the average ages of ISL franchises with that of clubs in long-established leagues is unfair. “We have had to build from scratch,” he says. “If you look at European teams, at a given point of time, they have had 25-30 players on their roster, a lot of them youngsters. Taking that into account, I don’t think the ISL situation is bad. If you compare the last year with the one before, you will find that ISL has become faster and better. This year clubs have attracted a lot of young players who are hoping to use the league as a stepping stone. That is only going to get better,” added the official