The call for merging the lucrative Indian Super League with the I-League — the domestic club football league of India — reached a crescendo last year, and AIFF soon started working out a plan that will see just a single football league in the country in the coming years.
Indian football needs a single football league, just like the Premier League or the Bundesliga or the La Liga, fans, players, coaches, and officials have opined for long. Last November, I-League CEO Sunando Dhar said India could have a single football league in two-three years.
The governing body of football in India reiterated the statement just prior to the start of the new I-League season. The domestic football league of the country features nine teams this time — the lowest number of clubs since its inception. Is that a worrying trend? Definitely.
But what does Kushal Das feel about that? "It is true that teams have come down in the I-League. But two new teams [Aizawl FC and DSK Shivajians] have also come up," the AIFF general-secretary said at an event in Kolkata on Wednesday.
Neither Pune FC nor Royal Wahingdoh nor Kalyani Bharat FC are part of the I-League this time, and it surely is a matter of concern. The AIFF official did vent his concerns, and also made sure to slam Kalyani Bharat FC indirectly.
The side from Pune made heads turn after a grand entry to the I-League last season, but some internal issues forced them to pull out of the league and also disband the franchise as a whole.
"One team which is no longer in the I-League didn't have any vision," Das said, in an apparent dig at the Kalyani Group-owned franchise. "But the issue of Pune FC not playing is a matter of concern. Maybe they have not been able to develop a fan base in all these years, in spite of handling it professionally. And in case of Royal Wahingdoh, the reasons are financial."
So what's the road ahead, one might ask. Nine teams definitely do not make a competitive league anywhere in the world. Therefore, the prospect of merging the I-League with the ISL comes to the fore.
"If you see the overall picture, two years ago there were 12 teams playing the I-League and now by combining two leagues [ISL and I-League], you have 17 teams playing, which helps us in thinking about the merger much more," said Das.