In what would be music to the ears of head coach Bob Houghton, captain Bhaichung Bhutia today stressed the need to treat the performance of the national team as the key yardstick for the health of football in the country.
"To make the game big in India, we have to ensure that the public identifies with the national team and its members. The performance of the Indian side is the key factor in the promotion of the game, not the fortunes of individual clubs," the star striker said.
"If the national team does well, it will benefit everyone and the All India Football Federation and the state associations need to grasp this fact," Bhutia said.
He said playing frequent international matches was important for India's FIFA ranking to improve.
The Sikkimese sniper was speaking at a function to announce the selection of Gurgaon's Amity United Football Club for the second division of the I-League.
AIFF launched the much-hyped I-League last year and claimed that it would result in significant improvement in the standard of Indian football but Houghton had stressed that the performance of the national team was of paramount importance.
"As of now, it (I-League) seems to be same as the NFL (National Football League). But with time, there would be changes and clubs will have to conform with the guidelines decided by AIFF," Bhutia said.
The next season has India featuring in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) championship as well as the AFC Challenge Cup to be contested by the second tier of Asian teams.