ISL-I-League merger: Finding backers for Mohun Bagan, East Bengal key to start
If corporate backers for Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are not found by May, the new 10-team football league comprising Indian Super League (ISL) franchises and I-League clubs may not kick-off in 2017-18. That is the biggest but not the only challenge to this union of leagues.
This is what HT learnt from officials of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on Friday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to the media.
The officials said talks are on between the AIFF’s commercial partners and business groups interested in investing between Rs. 40 crore to Rs. 50 crore annually - the budget of an ISL franchise that is nearly three times of what these clubs spend in a season - over a sustained period of time each in Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
An international liquor company and an Indian multi-national company have shown interest, the officials said.
If backers for India’s most popular football clubs are not found in the next two months, the new league will have to be deferred, the officials said. That’s because most players would become free agents by the end of May and teams, both in the ISL and the I-League, would need clarity on whether there will be one, new league in 2017-18 from November that runs for five to seven months or status quo.
Knowing that soonest could be more important for Bengaluru FC and Mohun Bagan, who are representing India in the AFC Cup this season. Should one of them qualify for the knockout rounds, they may have to play from August and would need to sign fresh contracts with players. Last year, Bengaluru FC made history by becoming the first club from India to play in the AFC Cup final.
Licensing and venues
After financers are found, it will have to be decided whether Mohun Bagan and East Bengal can share Kolkata as their home with two-time ISL winners Atletico de Kolkata.
Ditto the question of whether teams in the new league can fulfill mandatory licensing requirements of the AIFF and the Asian Football Confederation in time for the 2017-18 season that will start after the under-17 World Cup. Clubs can be given a year’s exemption but that would fly in the face of talk of this being a competition run professionally and in step with the bigger leagues of Asia and elsewhere.
The Aizawl issue
There is also the issue of Aizawl FC. Having been given an exemption by the AIFF, Aizawl FC have surprised all by leading the 10th I-League with four rounds to go.
As things stand, the top tier of the new league will have ISL franchises playing with Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Bengaluru FC in a home-and-away format.
Should the new league kick-off in 2017-18 and Aizawl FC are excluded, it could undermine the AIFF’s most important competition.