The fifth edition of the Manipur State League is set to kick-off on Wednesday with Youth Welfare Club taking on new entrants All Irengband Football Association at the Mapal Kangjeibung ground in Imphal. The MSL has been organised since 2006 by the All Manipur Football Association under the Vision India program with guidance from the AFC and the AIFF.
And Manipur has been the only real success story of the Vision Asia program in India so far, actually it is said to be one of the best across the Asian continent. Manipur has the talent, but not the financial resources to compete against the best in India, still the small North-eastern state has tried to fulfil the criteria set down by the AFC under the program. Be it by forming a state league, in youth development, women's football, coaches education, referees and even with infrastructure.
While projects in Delhi and Tamil Nadu had to be closed down due to the administration not being able to push through necessary changes and take steps to develop the game in their states, Manipur has been doing its bit over the last four years. Now Vision India projects in Goa and Kerala will hopefully also bring positive results for Indian football.
Coming back to the Manipur State League. The league is a 12 team affair which is played on a home-and-away format over a period of six to eight months. The duration of the league depends on factors like weather and political stability in the state. NISA from Thangmeiband are the defending champions, they have actually won the league in the last three years; while the first edition had been won by Tiddim Road Athletic Union. The champions get a chance to represent Manipur in the Federation Cup qualifiers, while the last two teams are relegated each year and two new teams are inducted in their place. This year Youth Development Organisation and All Irengband Football Association are the new boys in the MSL.
The 12 participating teams are Youth Welfare Club, Thambalkhong; Tiddim Road Athletic Union; Eastern Sporting Union, Wangkhei; Manipur Police SC; United Sporting Association, Khurai; Anouba Imagi Mangal; Southern Sporting Union, Singjamei; North Imphal Sporting Association, Thangmeiband; North Eastern Re-Organising and Cultural Association, Laipham Khunou; Tiddim Road Unique Gamy Players’ Union, Nambol; Youth Development Organisation, Kwakeithel Konjeng Leikai; and All Irengband Football Association, Kakching.
Another interesting season is ahead of the Manipuri clubs. And some clubs have voiced their ambitions to copy what Shillong Lajong FC has been able to do on the national stage, but before being able to get to that level the clubs will have to try and be the best in their state. Champions NISA with the experience in the Federation Cup and I-League Division 2 surely has a headway ahead of the other clubs, who all have to work hard to put their budgets together.
The sky is the limit and why not have a team from Manipur in the I-League. Their players are already regulars across all premier division clubs, across local leagues and even in the national teams.