June 24, 2016 will be remembered as a black day not only in Europe due to the Brexit referendum but also in Indian football with former champions Salgaocar FC and Sporting Clube de Goa deciding to exit the I-League as both clubs do not see a future in the I-League with the Indian Super League set to become the top tier of Indian club football without any relegation and promotion opportunities for lower level clubs.
And there could be even more bad news in store with former five time champions Dempo SC, who just gained promotion from the Second Division League back into the I-League, also considering an exit from the I-League. If this happens, then it would be a disaster especially for Goan football, but not only for them but Indian football as a whole then the I-League in its current form would be dead.
And one question comes to my mind, is the AIFF still in control of Indian club football? Did the AIFF not see all of this coming?
If one sees the federations reactions this evening and also in the years gone by when clubs opted out, then it is sadly a big NO.
Also to blame the Indian Super League and the AIFF’s marketing partners IMG-Reliance for this current mess would be too easy, then NFL/I-League clubs have been shutting down completely or disbanding their top level senior team even prior to the involvement of IMG-R and the arrival of the ISL.
The biggest issue that I see here is communication and how you communicate with your clubs as the AIFF, then it was known for a while that Salgaocar FC and Sporting Clube de Goa were considering this drastic step of exiting the I-League, but no one from the AIFF or I-League seems to have spoken to the clubs to dissuade them from taking this step and on the other side incorporate their worries into the final draft of the new Indian football pyramid and calendar.
The question now is if an I-League 2016/17 will be held in the first half of 2017 or if it dies a painful, slow death as there are not enough teams left with only Bengaluru FC, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Mumbai FC, Shillong Lajong FC, DSK Shivajians FC plus promoted Dempo SC in the I-League at this very moment with Aizawl FC relegated besides Salgaocar FC and Sporting Clube de Goa pulling out.
The AIFF needs to introspect, do what is good for Indian football and do not do the age old mistake of trying to defend itself against the allegations put forward, but try and turn things around, then there are many things to be prepared for the new Indian football pyramid, which is far from final and it could do with some expert inputs.
In the end I would like to state that not all club pullouts can or should be blamed on the AIFF as people have been doing.
Take e.g. Mahindra United, who had commercial and promotional reasons of no longer wanting to have a football team; JCT pulled out due to financial issues of the parent company; Mumbai Tigers FC (Dodsal) and Kalyani Bharat FC pulled out as they were not committed to football and jumped in before understanding the scenario in Indian football; while as bad as it was with Churchill Brothers SC, United SC and Rangdajied United FC, all these clubs did not fulfil the criteria set by the I-League and which was known to everyone involved.
The real tragedies to me were Pune FC and Royal Wahingdoh FC last season, now Salgaocar FC and Sporting Clube de Goa follow in their footsteps.
Can the situation be salvaged???