Hero Indian Super League (ISL) winning coach Manuel Marquez advocated the idea of having more matches in the Indian football calendar for growth of the players at a faster rate. Kerala Blasters FC star Sahal Abdul Samad, who was an influential member of their Hero ISL 2021-22 campaign, also sang along the same lines.

When the Hero ISL was inducted back in 2014, only eight teams were in the fray, with a maximum of 17 matches on offer, subject to qualification to the final. Down the years, the tournament has grown in stature, emerging as the top-tier league in Indian football and the number of participants inflating to 11. However, the season runs for around five months, which is pretty less in comparison to the higher-ranked countries around the globe.

The organisers - Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) have already devised a plan to extend the Indian footballer calendar to nine months from 2022-23, in accordance with the European leagues. As informed, the season would begin in August and run till May, next year.

Clubs will play a minimum of 28 matches, including 20 in the Hero ISL and four each in two cup competitions - Durand Cup and Super Cup. Marquez, who led Hyderabad FC to the Hero ISL 2021-22 title, feels that the proposed structure will be beneficial for Indian football.

“I think a longer season with three competitions like Durand Cup, ISL and Super Cup, and in our case four – qualification for AFC Cup, will be fantastic for Indian Football. It’s impossible to get good development if you don’t train and if you don’t play. Six-seven months of off-season can be very long. There are better Indian players emerging after every season. They will appear more, which will increase the quality of the national team too,” said Manuel Marquez, as reported by TOI.

Sahal recently scored the winning goal for the Indian national team against Afghanistan in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers and helped the Blue Tigers to seal a berth for the second consecutive time in the continental event. A vital cog in the midfield for both his club and country, feels that less gaps between two seasons will help Indian footballers improve professionally.

“I think it (longer seasons) will only help the players to improve as professional footballers. That’s what a player needs – more game time, more matches, and keeping the rhythm of playing for a long time. It also cuts down the break which in India was very long. The gap between the seasons was too long so I think this will really help the players to be focussed and be match-fit,” stated Sahal Abdul Samad.

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“As they get more playing time and more matches, the players will be fit enough. When the breaks are less, the players can really focus on football because that’s what we do, that’s our livelihood so we can be more focussed on that. I really think it will help me as a player to be more focussed on football and help me grow as a professional footballer,” added the midfielder.