Indian Football rejig: "We would be happy to see promotion and relegation in ISL," says Bengaluru FC COO Mustafa Ghouse
Bengaluru FC need not ever worry about fighting a relegation battle but the club's Chief Operating Officer Mustafa Ghouse has welcomed the suggestion of the promotion (from the second division) and relegation (dropping to second division) system in the Indian Super League (ISL).
Indian football's domestic structure is set to undergo a change next season with the ISL as the premier division and I-League rebranded as a second-tier league. Some of the I-League clubs vehemently opposed this structure as it did not give them a chance to ever gain top division status as the ISL is a closed league.
The ISL, fifth season which concludes this Sunday, currently has 10 teams with the bottom-half sides competing for scraps while the ISL champions get an AFC Cup slot. Many former players, including Indian football legend Bhaichung Bhutia, have suggested promotion and relegation as the way forward and Ghouse, a stakeholder in the ISL, concurs.
"We've always been a big supporter of relegation and promotion," Ghouse told Sportskeeda. "Everyone needs to have that chance. A lot of times, the fight at the bottom is as exciting as the fight at the top, sometimes even better. There should be some pressure.
"What we have experienced in the last couple of years, if you are not in the contention for the top 4, you go into a 'go with the flow' mindset. With the ISL, you have the incentive that you don't play the Super Cup qualifiers if you finish in the top 6.
"But there's not really that much at stake and it would be interesting if you have relegation.
"It's also for the teams at a level below (in the second division), they want something to fight for. We would be happy to see that (system in the ISL)."
The AFC Cup slot dilemma
Rewind back to November 2018. India were about to take on Jordan in a friendly before the AFC Asian Cup and Sunil Chhetri, who was not in the squad at that time due to an injury, released a video on his social media feed with a few suggestions on Indian football.
Chhetri, the Bengaluru FC captain, was disappointed that Bengaluru would not play in the AFC Cup despite finishing on top of the table in the ISL. The spot for this season is taken by Chennaiyin FC, who pipped Bengaluru FC for the ISL trophy, and Chhetri felt the table-toppers should instead be awarded for their consistency.
Bengaluru are in their second ISL final after a magical 3-0 (4-2 aggregate) win over NorthEast United in the ISL semifinal. They finished on top of the table as well. While Ghouse admits that Chhetri's suggestion is sensible, he still wants his team to cross the final hurdle before commenting further.
"I think that topping the league is the sign of consistency. Winning in the playoffs is just the performance on the given day.
"We have sent across communication and we will talk with the league (to see) if it can be incorporated. At the end of the day, we have to win that trophy and we hope to see that the job is done this time," Ghouse said.
Keeping The Kanteerava Fortress
Back home, Bengaluru are involved in a tussle with the Karnataka Athletics Association (KAA), who have contested BFC's right to use the stadium. The KAA feels Bengaluru are hampering the progress of athletics by restricting the use of the track surrounding the football pitch. Under the clout of the influential Muthappa Rai, who has taken over KAA as the chief, the state athletics body approached the Department of Youth Empowerment of Sports (Karnataka Sports Ministry) and demanded that the DYES not extend its deal with Bengaluru FC over the stadium use.
BFC's tie-up with the Karnataka Sports Ministry allows them exclusive access to the football pitch in return for the development of the infrastructure in the stadium. This deal will expire at the end of this season (May 31, 2019) and the KAA has claimed that Monday's semifinal against NorthEast United would be the last match Bengaluru FC play at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.
Ghouse says the parties will sort it out and reach an amicable solution. "It's an ongoing debate/discussion that we have been having with the authorities and athletics association. With JSW, we have invested in all sports and not just football.
"We've not shut the track. We have even catered to certain requirements that they have. We will be able to provide amicable solutions.
"There are elements that will push their own agenda. But if you look at growing the sport, it's important that everyone learns and finds a way to make it work."
Ghouse feels there's no alternative currently to the Sree Kanteerava Stadium for Bengaluru.
"Under the scheme of things, Kanteerava is the most eligible stage in the Asian and ISL perspective. We're in conversation (with the authorities) to see how best we can extend and we'll keep hoping. We do believe and recognise that Bengaluru needs a football stadium with the way the sport is growing and we'll keep that conversation going as well."