Wednesday , October 4 2023

Should India’s top tier league follow the European or North American model?

AIFF logoThe All India Football Federation has recently announced that the I-League and Indian Super League would merge to become one league with the merger likely to happen the latest by the 2018/19 Indian football season.

The proposal presented by the AIFF and their marketing partners IMG-Reliance showed the Indian Super League as the new top tier with likely 12 teams to play from September to March while there would be a League One (former I-league) and League Two (Second Division league) below.

But the question that I ask myself is, what format and number of teams should the new, merged Indian top tier have?

Going by the proposal put forward by the AIFF/IMG-Reliance it looks more to be an American franchise-based model which to me is nowadays more commercially than sports driven and I feel that is the wrong approach.

But before going into more details, there is one thing which has been wrongly reported and mentioned by some football experts that without any relegation and promotion the Indian Super League would be alone in the world of football, some even said sports.

That is utterly wrong! The North American ‘Major League Soccer’ played in the United States and Canada does not have any relegation and promotion as do not the other big North American leagues in Basketball’s NBA, American Football’s NFL, Ice Hockey’s NHL and Baseball’s MLB.

And why? These leagues are franchise driven, they are not community or city clubs which is the major difference of professional sports in the US and European club football, a similar difference between the Indian Super League and the I-League in India.

India has embraced an own version of America’s professional leagues through the success of Cricket’s IPL followed by the ISL and Pro Kabaddi.

With the AIFF/IMG-Reliance wanting to go the enlarged ISL route, I feel they need to mix things-up in the interest of Indian football, which I feel is more important at this stage than commercial success, then only success on the football field will enhance and improve Indian football in the long-term.

And there the European club football model is more suitable to Indian football as we have had football in India for decades unlike an IPL-style league in cricket or other sports like hockey, kabaddi, etc.

I hate to live in the past, but here we need to use the history and heritage of Indian football through clubs like Asia’s oldest football club in Mohun Bagan AC, East Bengal Club and other sides like Salgaocar FC and Dempo SC to name a few, but also embrace the new professional crop in Bengaluru FC and Mumbai FC, and see how to grow club football in the Northeast which has now spread from Shillong to Aizawl.

Just saying we have the eight ISL franchises and add a few teams, maybe even include expansion franchises will not work.

The new Indian top tier should have over a three to five year period, 16 teams in it and run from September to May with breaks for international assignments of Team India. Only this way we will succeed and if we succeed, then the commercial success will also come.

Rebranding the Federation Cup into the Super Cup and making it an end of season tournament is also something to look into. Call it whatever you may, but as I have been saying for years, such a Cup competition should not be run just like another tournament but a real Cup and run over a season, giving the smaller clubs a chance to upset the biggies.

The AIFF/IMG-Reliance have a lot to ponder about to create a real roadmap for Indian club football. It isn’t easy but they have a chance to make it right…

About Arunava Chaudhuri

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