Kolkata welcomes the move but Goa has its share of detractors. And while FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) advocate a longer competition with more teams, Subhas Bhowmick thinks even 10 teams are way too many.
We are talking of the first professional league that the All India Football Federation will launch this year. It was supposed to kick-off on September 30 but with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) suddenly altering its World Cup qualification format, that date is no longer confirmed, AIFF general-secretary Alberto Colaco said.
Everyone agreed that infrastructure would be a problem but Mohun Bagan accountant Debasish Dutta pointed out that such a step is necessary to bring a change in the mindset of those who run clubs. And in this he found an ally in East Bengal general-secretary Kalyan Majumdar and Mohammedan Sporting’s former football secretary Mohammed Qamaruddin who also felt that the new league would lead to clubs recruiting professionals to run the show.
Majumdar accepted that the NFL started with similar aspirations but little changed in 11 seasons. Will the Professional League also go the same way? “We have to wait and see. But this is definitely a welcome move. Infrastructure-wise there would be some limitations but we will have to go ahead,” he said.
Cut to Goa and the mood swing is perceptible. “It seems they announced the Professional League just to please FIFA president Sepp Blatter who visited India recently,” Goa Football Association (GFA) secretary Savio Messias said. “A professional league has to be run by professionals. We still don’t know whether the same NFL committee will run the show or a separate professional body will be asked to conduct it,” he said.
Messias’s arguments find a lot of takers who think the first professional league will essentially be the last NFL by another name.
The clubs are also unsure how they will benefit. “The pro league would make the club accountable and that is the most heartening part of it. But that’s not enough,” said Salgaocar Sports Club secretary R.A.J.Gomes.
“None of the clubs have the infrastructure and wherewithal for training, matches and youth development. That can only happen if the clubs can earn from the game and then put the money in development,” he added.
Gomes is not off the mark. Clubs in the NFL spend up to Rs 4 crore per season but can earn only a fraction of that through winnings. The NFL’s top prize for instance is Rs 40 lakh. The AIFF pays each club a participation fee of Rs 1 lakh and provides for their travel and accommodation during the tournament.
“They are speaking about pro league and making clubs accountable. But the AIFF is mum over whether they will share any advertising and TV revenue with the clubs,” Sporting Clube de Goa vice-president Victor Gonsalves said.
Bhowmick’s take on this was completely different. “India does not have enough quality players to form 10 good teams. Get the best you have into six teams who will play each other at home, away and a neutral venue,” he said. “That way the professional league will be an improvement in quality from the NFL and you will also get more spectators involved in the game,” he said.
The views are varied and extreme and the debate will rage till well into the first professional league.