The All India Football Federation with its marketing partners IMG-Reliance on Tuesday, May 17 presented a first draft of a plan to revamp the whole calendar across Indian football at both national team and club level.
While the ideas about giving Team India more international exposure with the aim of a better FIFA World Rankings has been welcomed across the board, the new 3-Tier League structure with the Indian Super League as the top tier, followed by a new League One and League Two has been heavily criticised by numerous different stakeholders within Indian football.
Especially the I-League clubs, who have been the backbone of Indian football for decades but especially over the last 20 years since the inception of the old National Football League in December 1996, do not know where their future lies as the top tier ISL according to the plans would be a league without promotion and relegation, while teams need to pay a franchise fee to be part of the league like the eight current existing franchises.
The harshest criticism has come from none other than former India captain Chuni Goswami who said in a Bengali newspaper, “What I read in the newspapers before the meeting, it looked like a plan to merge the ISL with the I-League. However, what came out was a plan promoted by a group driven by self-interests that is trying to give ISL an official status since it is not a Fifa approved tournament.”
But is it all correct? Has the federation the right decision to restructure the league set-up?
I personally think that one needs to look at the blueprint presented by the AIFF and IMG-R, while also remembering that something needs to happen then I-League and Indian Super League running after each other in one season is not a long-term option.
Now one has to look at different options and how do you bring these two entities in I-League and Indian Super League together or give one of the two a higher priority over the other. Before the meeting on May 17 there was talk of a merger, but what was presented that day was rather option two of the ISL becoming the top tier and the I-League disappearing for a new second tier to be called League One.
This way I feel the AIFF didn’t do justice to what it earlier said and one needs to look into which of the two league/tournament models can be run across seven months or rather something new needs to be created, then the reality of both I-League and Indian Super League is that the two are commercial failures for the club and franchises.
Neither the I-League nor the Indian Super League are going in the direction of even moving towards a break even, which is the need of the hour to sustain investments into Indian football. For that to happen one would most probably would need to look into creating a league with elements of both I-League and Indian Super League.
But that does not seem to be the aim of the moment, then certain quarters think the ISL is the way forward but a long duration ISL also means that if the league is to attract top foreign players, then they would have to stay in India for six/seven months and I see that as a big problem besides the issue of salaries as India would have to compete with the more potent Chinese (CSL) and North American (MLS) leagues.
Also I disagree with Reliance Sports head Sunder Raman that India does not have the football talent for a 16 team league. If planed the proper way and implemented over a three year period, then a 16 team league running from September to May could be formed and run in India, but there needs to be a will do so the same.
Therefore the paper is a good starting point for discussions, but things now need to carried forward and also the right experts on the topic of league development need to be brought in to shape it the right way in the interest of Indian football.