The great Indian football merger: I-League clubs' suggestions to be put forward next week
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is set to take in suggestions and redress the grievances of the current I-League clubs in a special executive committee meeting set to be held next week on July 28.
There was an outburst last month amongst the I-League clubs after the AIFF tabled a roadmap for Indian football which would have seen the Indian Super League being promoted as the primary event, relegating not only the clubs but the I-League as a whole.
What infuriated the clubs further were the restrictions on promotion and relegation from the league and the emphasis that the AIFF laid on paying a “franchise fee” in order to participate in the ISL.
In the aftermath of the decision, Goan clubs Sporting Clube de Goa and Salgaocar announced last month that they will pull out from next year’s I-League with Dempo also threatening to join the queue.
Before the meeting – which is slated to take place at the Constitution Club of India in New Delhi – Kushal Das, the general secretary of AIFF said that all the suggestions received will be tabled and hopeful that a solution would be found soon.
The focus on the clubs' suggestions is believed to be stressing to give the I-League clubs the chance to play in the new league or at least give them the right to refuse to participate without having to pay the franchise fees.
The Indian Super League, which is gearing up for its third season, is said to garner Rs 10-15 crores each year from the teams as a 'franchise fee' to take part in the event. This figure is much more than any of the I-League club’s annual budget of their first teams.
The AIFF had also proposed the expansion of the Indian Super League for the inclusion of two more teams. However, that means seven of the current I-League clubs will automatically go into the newly formed I-League – which has been proposed to become the second tier of Indian football – with no scope for a promotion in the coming few years. And that’s where they've hit a roadblock.
An accommodation of 17 teams into the top tier seems to be a far-fetched dream with the country's top footballing talent not in a position to really bring the cream out. Then there is the case of overlapping. From fans to owners and even players.
Mohun Bagan’s I-League winning side of 2014/15 had a total of 8 players loaned from ISL teams. Meanwhile in Goa, the owners have Salgaocar and Dempo themselves are minority stakeholders in FC Goa, the ISL’s franchise in the state.
When it comes to fans, Kolkata is set to be hugely affected if any of the major clubs do get into the Indian Super League. In a city that is divided on the lines of club loyalty, Atletico de Kolkata has tried to unite them. But it is nearly an impossible scenario to validate the ISL as the marquee event of the country and not have these two giants involved. That will be like Serie A without the Milan clubs or La Liga with either Real Madrid or Barcelona.
“You can’t have a major football competition without Mohun Bagan and East Bengal,” Shrinivas Dempo, senior vice-president at AIFF, has always said.
The AIFF seems disenchanted with the I-League and the I-League clubs seem to be done with being spoken to and not have their say at the table. And that’s never a good thing. Additionally, it’s hard to really convince a board who doesn’t seem either interested or , after having themselves claimed I-League to a “dead” product.
“No one wants to put up a club in the I-League in the structure they are proposing to us,” said an enraged Sultan Ahmed, the General Secretary of Mohammedan Sporting, another giant in the Kolkata football scene.
However, what is heartening to see is that India is finally taking its football seriously. Whether, it be the Premier Futsal League, the carnival that is the ISL at the moment or the upcoming U-17 World Cup which has even caught the notice of the Prime Minister of the country.
Whether next week’s meeting really brings any fruition on any of these subjects remains to be seen. All we can do is only hope for the best.