I-League 2018-19: Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj says ISL not growing Indian football
Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj took a dig at the Indian Super League (ISL) and said unless the concept of promotion or relegation in brought into the tournament, it will not develop Indian football.
He also voiced support for East Bengal and Mohun Bagan to be included in the ISL as soon as possible.
Talking to reporters ahead of Minerva next I-League match against East Bengal, Bajaj said, “There should be promotion and relegation in every tier. If you ask someone to pick between ISL and I-League, he will opt for the second one, because in the I-League teams have to fight relegation and that’s why games have become interesting to watch.”
Taking an example of the match between Mumbai City and ATK, which ended in a drab goalless draw, Bajaj said, “I have never seen such a boring match in my entire life. Both the teams know they won’t be relegated even if they finish last. So there was no fight on the pitch and both of them played safely.
"If you see the top four of last few seasons, there are more or less the same teams. But those who are there on the last four, they don’t give enough effort in the later stages of the tournament. Unless there is promotion, there will be no development of Indian football.”
However, Bajaj’s view is only partly true as NorthEast United, who never finished within the top four in the previous seasons, are sitting at the second position after the halfway stage of their campaign.
'No Leicester-like tale in ISL' - Ranjit Bajaj
Criticising the ISL for concentrating on drawing profits rather than developing Indian football, Bajaj said, “Football should be merit-based. There will never be a Leicester City-like affair in the ISL. The charm of football is not only the big clubs winning but everybody having an equal chance.
"Football has become a rich man’s game now. The value is a footballer is judged by his income and not by his performance. I feel Mohammedan Sporting and some small Goan clubs should also be in the top league. But that is not going to happen because of the commercialization.”
There is a rumour doing the rounds that the Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and East Bengal will be included in ISL from the next season. Lending his support for the move, Bajaj said, “There is no football in India if East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are not there. If these clubs shut shop, then ISL will subsequently be stopped from the following year.
"ISL management knows very well that these clubs will join them one day. The results of these two clubs have a direct effect on Indian football.”
'East Bengal don't treat their players with respect' - Ranjit Bajaj
Minerva were embroiled in a bitter relationship with East Bengal over the transfer of Sukhdev Singh, which resulted in a four-month transfer ban for the Kolkata club. When asked about it, the Minerva owner replied, “We have not imposed the transfer ban on East Bengal. It was done by the AIFF. East Bengal tried to sign Sukhdev illegally. I was saying from the first day that this is not the right process. I told them to come and talk to me but no one did. So I complained to the authority.
"I think it was a mistake by the club and the player’s agent. The AIFF has done a commendable job by banning East Bengal. Now, other clubs will think twice before doing anything illegally.”
Recently, the ban was withheld and East Bengal signed Spanish attacker Jaime Santos Colado immediately.
Bajaj also criticized East Bengal for being disrespectful to their players in the past. He said, “East Bengal has now become more professional which they weren’t until last year. I have some of their former players in my team and I came to know from them how they were treated there. There was favouritism in the team.
"The coach also didn’t have a say. Players were picked not on the basis of footballing reasons. I think that’s why East Bengal were not doing well. But I must say East Bengal had a very good team last year. They deserved to be the champions. Now there is a change in the whole set-up as boys are willing to give their best on the field. That hunger should be there.”