The much talked about merger of the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League may not happen next year, Praful Patel, president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) told HT.
“We would have liked it to happen in 2017, we still do, but it looks unlikely,” said Patel, on the sidelines of a programme organised to launch ‘Back to The Roots’, a book on football written by Shaji Prabhakaran, who is also the FIFA development officer for south and central Asia. Former India stars such as IM Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia, Jo Paul Anchery, Raman Vijayan and Bruno Coutinho were present as was former India and JCT coach Sukhwinder Singh.
The main area of contention is the lack of clarity on which teams from Kolkata and Goa would take part in the amalgamated competition that is supposed to be India’s official football league, said Patel.
According to a proposal mooted by the AIFF and IMG-Reliance, the federation’s commercial partners, earlier this year, the league would be called the ISL and run for six to eight months, beginning after the 2017 under-17 World Cup.
But while Bengaluru FC’s participation was a given, since they are the reigning I-League champions and there is no ISL franchise from that city, it seems there is no consensus yet as to who from Kolkata and Goa would participate.
While FC Goa represent the state in the ISL, it also has teams such as Salgaocar, Dempo and Sporting Clube de Goa in the I-League. Kolkata has Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in the I-League and Atletico de Kolkata in the ISL. Though the number of teams in the 2017-18 ISL was not made public when the proposal was shared with all stakeholders here last May, sources in the AIFF said it is unlikely to be more than 10.
That means with all eight ISL franchises being given automatic entry, according to the terms of their contract, a formula needed to be arrived at to pick two teams from the I-League. With only a year left for the new season, there is no clarity on that yet.
So, going by current indications this season’s I-League may not be the last one. What could, however, happen, according to a source in the AIFF, is that the ISL in 2017 would have 10 teams. That would mean a longer and bigger ISL with the I-League winners continuing to representing India in AFC tournaments.
‘ISL a disrupter’
Earlier, speaking at a panel discussion after the book launch, Patel called the ISL, in its current avatar, a disrupter. “We (the AIFF) have set the cat among the pigeons,” he said, while explaining that without the ISL, football in India wouldn’t have got the shake-up it needs. At that discussion, Bhutia mentioned the lack of opportunities at the youth level in his time and said the kind of exposure the India uner-17 team is getting is proof that some things have changed for the better.