Opinion

Krishna's India move a sign of things to come

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It has been hailed as a surprise move but Roy Krishna leaving Wellington Phoenix to sign for ATK in India is more likely a sign of things to come.

The Indian Super League was once a byword for signing big-name foreign stars who were approaching retirement but that has changed.

The A-League has been identified as a perfect place to sign talent with a lower profile but with lower wages and a higher chance of success.

The Fijian forward, top scorer in the last A-League season with 18 goals, is the kind of player that is going to increasingly appeal to Indian Super League clubs.

Things are changing on the subcontinent.

There isn’t the same money as in the recent past but still enough to tempt top A-League stars who have plenty of options.

"The clubs kept coming,” Krishna said. “I wanted to stay in the A-League but it comes down to who values me more and then I talked to my family and I think ATK was the right club.

"They valued me more and that's all I can say."

When the ISL came into being in 2014, it was a glitzy eight-team ten-week standalone tournament that had little to do with the existing I-League bar borrowing its Indian players for a couple of months.

It immediately made headlines with how the clubs were set up. These franchises were owned by a mixture of cricket legends, Bollywood stars, high-profile businessmen and European clubs (ATK started out as Atletico De Kolkata thanks to its ties, severed in 2017, with Atletico Madrid).

Even more headline-grabbing were the famous players and coaches who were attracted.

Some of the stars were a little past their sell-by date but the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Nicolas Anelka, Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg were always going to be popular and there was Zico and Marco Materazzi on the sidelines.

In its short history, ATK fans have already seen strikers such as Robbie Keane, Helder Postiga and Luis Garcia.

With an average attendance of over 24,000, the first season was deemed a success, so much so that the idea of merging the ISL with the I-League, the traditional top of the Indian pyramid that seemed a little staid and unsexy by comparison.

There is still a lack of clarity regarding the immediate future of the two leagues but the end result is likely to see the ISL, already expanded to ten teams, with some I-League additions as the de facto top tier with the rest of the I-League one rung below.

Whatever happens it means that ISL clubs, which were losing money even in a short period, now have to operate on a much more traditional basis with proper contracts instead of the two or three months deals of the past.

The era of signing veteran big-names, which was fading anyway, has come to an end.

Clubs have to be a lot smarter in their recruitment. The A-League is an obvious place to look, though Krishna’s ties to the country obviously make him a safer bet than most - there can’t be a much bigger contrast between two cities in the world than Kolkata and Wellington.

The bustling Indian metropolis takes some getting used to but it is a hotbed of football with a longer history in the sport than much of the world.

Players who shine in Australia are always going to be good enough for India and, unlike some world famous stars, are not going to see going to the subcontinent as a chance for one last payday while doing the locals a massive favour.

It is up to clubs as much as possible to ensure they are adequately compensated.

ISL clubs can’t afford the big names at the moment and that is no bad thing as it tries to turn itself into a more traditional tournament.

Krishna has a big part to play next season and the A-League may well find itself keeping tabs on more and more alumni in India.