An influx of soccer players to India from Australia has highlighted changing fortunes as the Indian Super League (ISL) flourishes and the A-League hits lean times during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just two Australians played in the Indian Super League last year, but 10 were among the 11 teams when the competition got under way in a bio-secure “bubble” in Goa last week.
Non-Australian A-League players have also made the move, including English striker Adam Le Fondre — last season’s second-highest goal-scorer with Sydney FC — along with German defender Matti Steinman and Aaron Holloway of Wales.
Much of the change is down to money, with the A-League salary cap expected to drop by up to 30 percent next season following a fall in broadcasting revenue.
It has made the ISL, which previously attracted a smattering of fading stars, a more attractive proposition for Australia-based players.
One of the players to head to India is Australian defender Dylan Fox, 26, who left the Central Coast Mariners in September to join Northeast United in Guwahati.
“With all the uncertainty around the A-League at the moment, it was a good opportunity to head overseas and test myself in Asia,” Fox said. “The A-League has stagnated in the last couple of years anyway and the other boys probably feel the same.”
The ISL has in six years outstripped the older I-League to become India’s premier soccer competition.
FC Goa is next year to become the first team from India to play in the Asian Champions League.
The A-League, established in 2005, experienced a drop in revenue when broadcaster Fox Sports canceled its contract during the COVID-19 shutdown, before striking a reportedly cheaper deal.
It has helped give the ISL a sizeable Australian presence, alongside its numerous Spaniards and Brazilians, and a smattering of Britons, including former Newcastle United defender Steven Taylor.
However, the Australians are prohibited from getting together as players are confined to their team hotels in the Goa “bubble.”
“It will be great to see all these familiar faces on the pitch at least,” Fox said.
India’s interest in Australians is also driven by a requirement that each team signs a player from the Asian Football Confederation.
There could be a lot riding on the Australian contingent this season. If the majority perform well, then there might be more opportunities as Indian soccer grows.
Fox’s contract is just for one season, but it could be a turning point for the 26-year-old.
“I will see what happens as this is a big step in my career and I want to make the most of this opportunity,” he said.
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