The ISL and I-League merger has been quite a saga, and for a while now. The one-Indian league initiative by AIFF arguably needed better planning and implementation, and after Sporting Clube de Goa and Salgaocar FC’s withdrawal, it just shows why. Both the clubs have mentioned that they’re still part of the Indian footballing folklore and would be joining back once the conundrum is over.
Amidst this whole uncertainty, Indian football team skipper Sunil Chhetri has spoken his mind. In an interview with one of the premier Indian newspapers, Chhetri said that he wanted a pan-Indian league, to ensure there’s no dearth of opportunities for anyone vying to be a footballer in the country.
Chhetri said, “The more the teams, the better it is for the league. If you ask me what the ideal situation is, it would be 20 teams. Maybe a team from places like Madhya Pradesh and Lakshadweep. If a kid in Gujarat wants to make it big right now, he has to go beyond his state. It’s not difficult.”
For a player who has plied his trade in Portugal and US, he understands the level Indian football should be at. Chhetri is inarguably right. Throughout the world, premier leagues usually have 20 top teams who battle it out for the trophy every year, with a second-tier tournament which takes care of the relegation and promotion every year.
With Chhetri captaining his I-League club Bengaluru FC to AFC Finals, it is understandable why the skipper believes India should now start trying to reach the higher standards.
With the abundance of talent, Chhetri wants to break state-ly barriers and wants other states to contribute to the game. In the interaction, the captain said, “But imagine how good it will be if there are 20 teams in the main league and 20 more wanting to come in. It’ll be a pan-India league then.
“Why do we only get players from North East or Goa or Kerala? Why don’t we have superstars from, say, Madhya Pradesh? There must be talent there. Ideally, I would want much more teams and a bigger league.”
The national captain said that the merger was a welcome call for the players. Sunil emphasised, “As captain of the Indian team, (I feel) it will be good if the merger happens. Players do think about the two leagues merging into one. Sadly, it’s not in their hands.”
Hours after this interview, I-League clubs like Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa confirmed their departure from the league citing ‘strong objections’ to the road map for Indian football proposed by the governing body, the AIFF and its marketing partners. The AIFF is currently in process of scrutinising bids of three new clubs – FC Bardez from Goa, Minerva from Chandigarh and Chennai City – to participate in India’s premier league.