AFC changes foreigners’ rule; India sticks to 3+1

  • From 2022, there will be no bar on the number of foreign players clubs can register but it won’t be implemented in ISL and I-League, says AIFF.
ATK Mohun Bagan players during 2021-22 Indian Super League.(ISL)
ATK Mohun Bagan players during 2021-22 Indian Super League.(ISL)
Published on Dec 01, 2021 09:07 PM IST
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By, Kolkata

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) will stick to the 3+1 foreign players’ rule for the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League even though the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has lifted restrictions on imports from next season.

“The current 3+1 Foreign Player (sic) rule under which a club can field a maximum of four international players (three players of any nationality and one from an AFC member association) at any given point in time during a match is set to make way for a more augmented combination,” AFC said in a media release on Tuesday.

The new number for foreigners hasn’t been decided yet—4+2 or 5+1 or 5+2 have been approved by the AFC’s competitions and technical committees—and a decision will be taken next year, the release said.

But the AFC executive committee has waived the 3+1 rule from 2022. AFC now mandates that any number of foreigners can be registered from next season “based on the domestic league registration rules.”

And that is how AIFF wants to maintain status quo. ISL and I-League follow the 3+1 rule; this being a first for ISL where imports have been pruned to bring it in line with AFC regulations. “We are clear in our stand that this is how it will stay,” said Kushal Das, the AIFF general secretary, on Wednesday.

“There has been a lot of effort to reduce the number of foreigners. The head coach (Igor Stimac) and FSDL (the company which runs ISL) are both against increasing it.”

Stimac had supported the 3+1 rule, saying it would mean he could see “more youngsters”. The Croat also pointed out Hyderabad FC doing well last season despite often not having the full quota of foreigners.

Das said it is possible that AIFF would not limit registration of foreign players but will allow only 3+1 in its competitions.

That means Indian clubs qualifying for the AFC Cup and Asian Champions League could have to register new foreigners going into those competitions from 2023 when the new rule will be implemented. Till last season, ISL clubs had to do the opposite. In ISL, a maximum of five imports were allowed while the rule in AFC competitions was 3+1. India’s top league and AFC will be on a par only for the 2022 Asian competitions.

ISL’s decision to reduce the number of foreigners has also been welcomed by Marco Pezzaiuoli, the Bengaluru FC coach.

Antonio Lopez Habas, ISL’s most successful coach with two titles, though had a different take. “Now the rules are to play four foreign players and we have to adapt to that situation. We have six foreign players and there is a high possibility that all are capable of playing…I have one question: Is it better to reduce one foreign player? Because the player who comes here has to be of high quality. It is not possible that a (foreign) player with no quality can play in ISL,” the Spaniard said before ATK Mohun Bagan began their campaign this season.

The ISL is good advertisement for Indian football and every season there have been more Indians on the pitch but if football’s standard has to improve, work should start in the academies, Habas said.

The 3+1 rule was implemented by AFC in 2009 and it accepted that Asian players got more opportunities as a consequence. “But with the Asian game coming into its own in recent years and growing in confidence, the Committees (sic) felt the time was opportune to review what is a crucial provision to further enhance the club game,” AFC said.

India took a different stand at the technical committee meeting and was supported by Japan’s Kozho Tashima, a former player who is the chairperson, said Das. Former India striker Abhishek Yadav represents India in the AFC technical committee.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata with over two decades as a sports journalist. He writes mainly on football.

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