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How many foreign players can play in ISL?

It’s extremely useful to know how many foreign players can play in ISL given that the rule involving foreign players in the Indian Super League has changed multiple times. From the ISL 2021-22 season onwards, teams in the Indian Super League (ISL) can sign a maximum of six players (including one from the Asian continental quota) but can play only four at a time in a lineup.

Since the inception of the ISL in 2014, foreign players have been an active part of the allure of the league and have been decisive on the field as well. From Luis Garcia and Iain Hume leading the then Atletico de Kolkata to ISL glory in the early stages to the likes of Roberto Carlos, Marco Materazzi, and Dimitar Berbatov attracting fans to the stands by hundreds, the impact of overseas players on the league’s history cannot be in doubt.

However, the rules governing the limitations of the number of foreigners who are able to play in a certain league also end up having major consequences on the league. These rules are decided by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and are also consented to by the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF), the two highest governing bodies in Indian football.

Let’s take a look at the current regulations that dictate how many foreign players can play in ISL.

How many foreign players can play in ISL?

SeasonMaximum foreigners in the squadMaximum foreigners in the starting XI
2019-207 (including Asian quota)5
2021-226 (including Asian quota)4

According to the existing ISL foreign players rule, teams in the league, from the ISL 2021-22 season onwards, are capable of signing a maximum of six foreigners but one of these players have to be signed through the Asian quota, and they have to be from an AFC affiliated nation.

During an ISL match, teams can have a maximum of four foreigners in the side at any given moment. However, the Asian quota need not be necessarily fulfilled among the overseas players on the field during matches.

It goes without saying that an ISL team can also opt to play less than four foreigners in a match. For example, East Bengal’s former caretaker coach Rennedy Singh named an all-Indian starting XI for the Red and Golds’ ISL 2021-22 match against Jamshedpur FC in January.

The new regulations governing the foreign footballers rule came into play when the Indian Super League (ISL) approved the 3+1 foreign players regulation for the upcoming season. Prior to that, a maximum of five foreigners could be fielded by a franchise at any given moment.

The decision was taken during a Football Sports Development Ltd. (FSDL) meeting attended by its chairperson Nita Ambani and is being communicated with the stakeholders including clubs and the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

The move is expected to boost the prominence and rise of Indian players in the top football league of the country. Prior to the rule change, an ISL team was permitted to sign up to seven international players and play a maximum of five on the field.

“The ISL has always exhibited a progressive and adaptive nature to their operations. Since 2014, ISL has improvised on many fronts with each year and today is yet another such example of ISL’s forward-looking statement on Indian football,” said a football administrator.

“The four foreigners regulation will go a long way in redefining Indian football in the years to come. It’s a positive and welcome step that will benefit our Indian players immensely. The change will certainly open up key positions for Indian players in the lineup,” he said.

In 2019, AFC and FIFA recognized the Indian Super League and conferred it with the status of the top football league in the country, relegating the I League to the second division status. Since the ISL is now part of the AFC competitive regulations, which administrate the 3+1 foreign player rules, the change in foreign player guidelines in Indian football is an important step towards the Indian league aligning to the Asian football international regulations.

“The decision is an outcome of ISL and its clubs’ aligned vision with the national federation (AIFF) and a result of joint consultation,” the league said.

In May, the AIFF’s executive committee unanimously implemented the ”3 (foreigners) + 1 (Asian) recruit rule” for I-League matches from 2020-21 season.

In December 2021, however, the AFC lifted the restrictions on the number of foreign imports a club can bring but the AIFF decided to stick to the four foreign players rule for the ISL and even the I League.

“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.

AIFF wanted to maintain its status quo in order to push out more Indian talent on the pitch. We are clear in our stand that this is how it will stay,” said Kushal Das, the AIFF general secretary.

“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.”

Das also added that it’s possible for AIFF to allow registration of foreign players without hindrance, but will only permit the 3+1 rule in its competitions.

What this could also mean is that the Indian clubs who qualify for the AFC Cup and the AFC Champions League might have to register new foreign players going into those competitions from 2023 onwards when the new AFC rule will be applied. The Indian clubs from ISL are in par with AFC rules in 2022 though.

Evolution of the ISL foreign players rule since 2014

Even in its relatively nascent existence, the ISL has seen plenty of changes and rule modifications. The foreign players rule is among them and it has gone through plenty of transformations over the years.

In the very first season of the Indian Super League in 2014, teams were allowed to sign a minimum of nine and a maximum of 11 overseas players while they could field as many as six foreigners in the playing XI on the field.

The rule was then reviewed and changed ahead of ISL 2017-18. In order to push for more Indian faces in the league and encourage the growth and development of talent, the maximum number of foreign signings that teams could make was brought down to eight. That season onwards, coaches could only field a maximum of five overseas players in a match.

The rule underwent a change once again ahead of the 2019-20 ISL season, when teams were required to register at least six foreigners in their squad, with a maximum of seven. Signing an Asian quota player from an AFC affiliate nation was mandated from the 2020-21 season onwards.

The number of foreign players in the league was higher during the initial years to grow the popularity of the league and make it appealing to a majority of the Indian fans. However, over the years, there has been a drastic reduction in the foreign quota cap in order to promote a healthy footballing development ecosystem in India and to slowly build up an indigenous talent pool that could serve the national team.


How many foreign players can play in the i league?

Like the ISL, the I League has also adopted the 3+1 foreign players rule and a maximum of four foreigners can be fielded by a team at the same time.

What is the afc Champions League foreign players rule in 2022?

The AFC has relaxed its foreign players limitation and from the 2023-24 season, coaches will be allowed to field up to six foreign players in their starting line-ups for the first time, an increase of two from the current quota, and at least one of those players must be from another Asian nation.


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