Minerva Academy and Chennai City make their debuts while former champions Churchill Brothers return… 

A brand new season of the I-League is set commence from 7 January, 2016. In keeping with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) revamp of Indian football, this season is set to be bigger and better than ever before.

The new campaign will feature 10 teams including two new direct-entry corporate teams Minerva Academy FC and Chennai City FC. The New Year will also see the return of former I-League champions Churchill Brothers SC. The Red Machines will be the only Goan team in the top tier this season. The three teams will replace Dempo SC, Salgaocar FC and Sporting Clube de Goa who have decided to withdraw from this season’s competition owing to differences with the AIFF over the proposed roadmap of Indian football.

It may be recalled that a few months ago Khel Now had exclusively reported that the new I-League season will feature upto ten teams, including two new direct-entry corporate teams and the return of Churchill Brothers.

The Red Machines have won the competition twice in 2008-09 and then again in 2012-13. They then lifted the Federation Cup in 2014 before going into the wilderness. The powerhouse now return after a two-year hiatus and are setting the bar high for themselves in the upcoming campaign.

Speaking exclusively to KN Churchill Brothers owner Churchill Alemao said, “”We are not here just to play in the I-League. We will be contenders for the title. Like earlier, we are building a strong team. We will bring in good foreigners.”

Defending champions Bengaluru FC are now under the stewardship of Spaniard Albert Roca who guided them to the AFC Cup Final in style. The Blues can also be relegated from this season onward following the expiry of their three-year exemption from the same.

Over in Kolkata, traditional powerhouses Mohun Bagan will look to regain the title they missed out on last season, while, rivals East Bengal are desperate to lift their first I-League crown in what could be the last year of the competition, with its proposed merger with the Indian Super League taking shape.

In the West Mumbai FC will look to re-establish themselves in the top tier after narrowly avoiding relegation last season. They are now managed by the experienced Santosh Kashyap, while Pune outfit DSK Shivajians will look for a better second season in the top flight. Finally, Aizawl FC and Shillong Lajong will fly the flag for the Northeast.

Ten Network which is now own by Sony Pictures Networks India are set to broadcast the top flight games with matches being played on a home and away basis. The I-League season will be followed by the Federation Cup.