As strange as it may sound, Haitian players and supporters are more aware of football in India than anywhere else in Asia. Many players of the Haiti national team have played in India and riding on the back of successful transplants like Sony Norde and Wedson Anselme, it is expected that more Haitian players will join India's top two leagues. Therefore, the questions why does India have two leagues and which is one is better naturally come to mind.
It is all started when Sony Norde was transferred to the club Sheik Russell in Bangladesh in 2013. The career of the former prospect and Boca Juniors' graduate who was coming from a stunt in Mexico with the club Altamira was instantly ostracized for the sin of accepting a transfer to the unknown world of Bangladesh football. However, Norde who clearly had no prejudice in regard to the sources of his paycheck, went on to establish a strong Haitian presence in the region.
The IL is India's internationally recognized football league. It is the country's traditional football championship and is more similar to football competitions found in other countries. Since local football is not very popular in India compared to Cricket, the league struggles to maintain a true professional status as clubs result to mostly short term contracts that usually last just one season. The seasons are very short given the small number of clubs participating in the league. Also, media coverage is scarce which is understandable considering that India usually fail to generate any excitements for its supporters in regional tournaments.
However, the I-League is the official football tournament of India. It has several divisions and clubs can be promoted or relegated. The IL has also attracted some foreign players, mostly older African and Brazilian players on their last legs with a few exceptions of younger players who are down on their luck. Despite that the IL has failed to contribute to a strong national team for India, the league manages to maintain a certain level of prestige in the Asian sub-continent region. The IL clubs are considered 'giants' and 'powerhouses' when matched against clubs from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Young and more talented than most in a country where football is as foreign as aliens on Mars, it did not take Sony Norde long to establish himself as a superstar in the I-League.
Inidan Super League
The Indian Super League is a standalone league that is similar to the USA's Major League Soccer. It adopts a franchise system with no promotion and relegation. In that sense it is more of a championship than a league.
The ISL entered the Indian football scene in 2013 with a bang. The league promised to revolutionize football in the Cricket country and established itself as the elite of Indian football. With a huge marketing effort and a professionally management, the league quickly challenged the more traditional but still semiprofessional I-League which is bloated with lower quality players. International club football is growing in popularity in India. Manchester United, Barcelona, Real enjoy a growing local fanbase. Therefore, the presence in the league of some former players from around the world and especially Europe conveys a sense of prestige that the I-League can only dreams of.
With a larger and more passionate support among the population and more investment money, the ISL has succeeded in presenting itsaelf as the country's top football league, at least in the eyes of non-Indian analysts.
However, unlike the I-League, the ISL do not qualify clubs to any regional tournaments which is a major handicap for some clubs. FIFA and the Indian officials have stated on many occasions that the ISL is just a championship between some clubs and that the country's true football league is the IL. That hurdle is also one of the main reasons some clubs are reluctant to totally abandon the IL.
Negotiations between the two leagues are underway to merge into one or share the privilege to send representatives to Asia's club tournaments. It was expected that a unified league was going to take place this season but apparently the project fell through.
So what do it mean to play in the ISL or IL? Well, as you can see the ISL enjoys a larger media coverage, has more foreign players, and is richer than the struggling I-League. However, the I-League offer clubs and players a chance to showcase their football in front of an international audience when they participate in Asian competitions.