Why the I-League will miss Bengaluru FC this season
When it comes to the I-League, very few teams have been as successful as Bengaluru FC in the last few editions of the tournament.
From winning the title in their debut season to reaching the AFC Cup final, the club was the crown jewel of Indian football for the last four seasons.
However, this edition of the I-League will not feature the two-time champions after their decision to join the Indian Super League (ISL) at the end of last season. The absence of the Sunil Chhetri-led side can be a major issue for the competition.
This will be the first time that the I-League and Indian Super League (ISL) will be running simultaneously. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has maintained that I-League is the country’s ‘official league’ as the winner is awarded an AFC Champions League spot, but the lack of star performers tells a different story.
The players were given a choice to play in any of the two leagues and the majority of well-known Indian footballers opted to take part in the ISL.
In a scenario like this, the absence of Bengaluru FC, a team with national team mainstays like Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh, has further worsened the situation.
The absence of Bengaluru FC also means that the I-League will be missing a sure-shot title challenger who would have added to the quality of the tournament.
With three debutants (Gokulam FC, NEROCA FC, Indian Arrows) and two sides who are just one-year old in the league (Chennai City FC and Minerva Punjab FC), I-League needed its more established teams to boost the attraction of the tournament.
However, with Bengaluru FC jumping ship at the start of the season, the I-League was dealt a major blow and Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen believes that the tournament will miss them this season.
“In football, it is always important to play quality teams in order to develop your own game. Bengaluru FC have been a top side in the I-League for the last few years and we will certainly miss them this season,” Sen told Hindustan Times at the sidelines of the l-League 2017-18 launch in New Delhi.
The other major reason why the I-League will miss Bengaluru FC this season will be their loyal fan base which has been a highlight of their home games at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.
The West Block Blues, who are known for their loud chants and big blue banners, were an integral part of the I-League since Bengaluru FC’s debut in 2013 and their presence provided an edge to the home matches.
For a very long time, the Kolkata giants – East Bengal and Mohun Bagan – as well as the Northeast teams were the leaders when it came to fan support.
But, with Bengaluru FC winning two trophies in the last four seasons, their supporters multiplied rapidly and with new teams looking to find their feet in the I-League, the loss of a dedicated fan base will be really harmful to the tournament’s viewership ratings.
2013-14 - I-League champions
2014-15 - I-League runners-up
2014-15 - Federation Cup winners
2015-16 - I-League champions
2015-16 - AFC Cup finalists
2016-17 - Federation Cup winners