Slide 32, 33 & 34 of Joshee's presentation
While the I-League would remain the top league - scheduled between March and October - the proposed league would be played from December to January and would supplement the I-League, rather than step on it’s toes as it stands today.
“It was possibly the best solution for India at that time,” says Joshee. “Even (then India coach) Bob Houghton thought it a good idea and I believe it would have generated substantial returns. I met Mr Patel at the office of civil aviation and left the papers with him. He was impressed with the idea.”
Joshee continues: “At the time, IMG were trying to get all the media rights to football in India. Mr. Patel even asked for my opinion on a few of the large agencies working in football at that time.”
In November 2010, Joshee even apprised Kushal Das, who had become General Secretary of AIFF by then, of his meeting with Patel and sent him the presentation for reference.
Joshee to Kushal
The IMGR-AIFF deal was announced in December 2010 - a shot in the arm for Indian football. The announcement came a couple of months after Joshee’s meeting with Patel, and though he hadn’t heard back from the AIFF President regarding his proposal, Joshee felt positive that an association was inevitable. Indian football had opened its doors to what was being proposed as a solution to raise the bar and Joshee felt confident he could be part of it.
Around the same time, Joshee was contacted by an old acquaintance in Jason Hughes.
Hughes, who was then a part of Hughes Insight Ltd, had first met Joshee when he was working for Celtic FC. Joshee and his team were mandated to represent them [Celtic FC] in India. Kenny Moyes and Joshee went to India with Hughes for the first time late in 2009, where he [Hughes] was introduced to many stakeholders of Indian football.
“I had not seen Jason in many months,” Joshee recalls. “And then out of the blue, he asked to meet up with me. Basically he didn’t know anyone in India until I took him there.”
A month prior to the ISL announcement, the two were again looking to collaborate on a number of projects, some of which were closely related to the Indian football market. Joshee’s roots and his connections in India made him the right man for such a job. Hughes and Joshee made another trip in 2010 for a follow-up with, among others including Reliance, Houghton, and AIFF, Abhijit Sarkar of Sahara.
“Jason asked me all types of question about India and Indian football. I shared my ISL idea with him and he even asked if he could keep a copy of the proposal to see if he could give some ideas and help me.”
This was nothing out of the ordinary.
Joshee’s roots, his connections, and his traction in Indian football, made him the right partner for anyone looking to invest or get started with business in Indian football. What was out of the ordinary though, was what followed.
“A short while after that[our trip], I learnt that he has been offered a job by IMG and heard little from him.”
Hughes would go on to join IMG as the Vice President of football in May 2011.
Joshee’s Portuguese colleague too had a similar experience with Jefferson Slack, whom he shared the ISL idea with. Slack joined IMG in June 2008 as the Senior Vice President of Global Business Development - Football. When Joshee reached out to Slack in April 2011, informing him of his meetings with Patel and proposing possible associations in the future, he failed to get any response from him as well.
“I’m not sure what happened after that, but when the Indian Super League was announced, there was no mention of us. It could be coincidence but judging by whom we discussed these plans with, I would not be surprised if they had simply lifted our idea,” he says.
In 2013, IMGR finally had everything in place and announced the inaugural edition of the ISL the following year. It was to be a private tournament, which would complement the I-League.
Instead, after four seasons, the ISL has become the No. 1 league in India, overshadowing the I-League, which has barely evolved - although its teams have improved - and lost one of it’s premier teams, Bengaluru FC, to the ISL.
“We are just building this (ISL) as a short-term solution,” Praful Patel told a daily in August 2013. “I-League is certainly the long-term solution. We need to strengthen it though and this is just a part of that process. Everybody thinks we have some magic wand to resolve issues facing Indian football. If somebody has a better solution, please come forward and share it with us.”
The ISL’s resemblance to Joshee’s proposed league was quite apparent. Joshee even followed up with Patel in June 2013, reminding him of the ‘IPL-style football tournament’ he had proposed in 2010 and even congratulating him for the creation of this ‘great concept’. Joshee was hurt with the way things had unfolded, but happy to see the development nonetheless.
Joshee to Patel
We reached out to Patel asking him about Joshee’s proposal. In his reply by email he said that “ideas were given by many people and this [current format of the ISL] is the culmination [of it]”
“The ISL has been successful in bringing a commercial value to Indian football. The league has been able to grab eyeballs, breaking all sociological barriers and making it more acceptable across all sections, while also drawing huge interest in the corporate world,” he wrote in the email response.
“The six stadias which hosted the [2017 FIFA Under-17] World Cup are truly world class [some of which double up as home grounds for ISL teams] and the lack of infrastructure, which has been one of the biggest bane for Indian football, is a thing of the past,” Patel said.
“However I feel this is just the beginning. There is still way forward for Indian football to complete the three-way jigsaw puzzle which will take it to its desired goal - player development by focussing on grassroots, further growth in infrastructure and incremental investment,” he added.
About the ISL being a ‘short-term solution’, Patel remained elusive: “At the round table meeting with the Asian Football Confederation in June 2017, all stakeholders in Indian football have agreed to a clearly defined road map to create the right structure for Indian club football in the coming years. The roadmap will culminate in a new and sustainable future for the game across the country.”
While Slack quit IMG Reliance in 2014, Hughes quit soon after. Both were unavailable for comment.
All efforts to reach out to IMG remain unanswered as of the time of publication. Gulati, who ended his reign as president of USSF last year, said that he was ‘not in a position to offer comments’.
Despite feeling robbed of his idea, Joshee is happy to see the progress that Indian football has made over the years and is happy to help when the opportunity arises. Joshee even believes Patel coming into Indian football was a great thing to happen to the game, proven more so, after the success of the U-17 World Cup.
“It would have been nice to get some credit. But do I feel bitter? No not at all! As long as the game is going in the right direction in India, it is great. I would like to be a part of it, as long as it’s with the right people with the right mindset,” Joshee says.