Nixed by the Bengal unit, franchises could enter Indian football on a bigger scale next year. And it could happen before the sixth Indian Premier League (IPL), a T20 competition that sold the f-word to Indian sport and sold it well.Plans are being put in place to hold a "short, crisp tournament involving franchises before IPL 6 starts, "said an official involved with one of the stake-holders requesting anonymity. The AIFF wants the tournament to have a link with the I-League. It wants top teams from I-League 6, scheduled to start on October 6, to compete with franchises with both having marquee players in a two-month meet.
“Of course, we can’t get top footballers. What we are looking at is recently retired international footballers who are known names in India. The plan is to have one marquee player and four other imports for each team,” the official said.
The number of teams from the I-League who will qualify and the number of franchises, city-based like it is in the IPL, hasn’t yet been decided. But the carrot for I-League clubs who won’t qualify could be this: their footballers would be part of the player pool and clubs will be paid a kind of transfer fee when those players are bought.
To give football a bigger reach, the AIFF wants franchises from cities which don’t have a strong football presence in India. The first proposal of an IPL-like meet in football came from a Kolkata-based company. It was supposed to kick-off in March 2012 as a six-team intra-Bengal affair with the Indian Football Association (IFA) which helms the sport in the state. Players such as Robert Pires, Fabio Cannavaro, Hernan Crespo, Jay-Jay Okocha and Robbie Fowler had confirmed too. Officially, the meet has been deferred because the IFA couldn’t provide grounds.
To accommodate the new meet, the AIFF is proposing a shorter I-League that will end by January 2013. I-League 6 could be split into two zones, east and west. The east zone will comprise teams from Kolkata and the north-east including United Sikkim and the west zone will have teams from Goa, Mumbai and Pune. Clubs will play home-and-away with the top three or four from each zone then playing a final round. That way, the AIFF has worked out the I-League could finish by end-January.
“When IMG-Reliance became our commercial partners (December 2010), they wanted to start a new tournament. Agreeing to that would kill the I-League and hence we are keen on this,” the official said.
A meeting in New Delhi between AIFF and IMG-R is scheduled on Thursday to take this forward. I-League clubs are likely to be briefed about this next week.