The AIFF recently announced that this season’s I-League champions will get a direct entry to the top-tier league.

The promotion of the I-League teams to the Indian Super League is something that will immensely motivate the I-League clubs, believes former India Captain Shabbir Ali.

The AIFF announced earlier that the Roadmap for Indian Football, as approved by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in October 2019, after consultations with the ISL and I-League clubs, the AIFF and its marketing partners. As per the Roadmap, the winners of the 2022-23 and 2023-24 I-League seasons will stand a chance to gain promotion to the ISL without any participation fee, basis fulfillment of the club licensing criteria.

Shabbir Ali, who is also the Chairman of the AIFF’s Advisory Committee, and a Member of the Executive Committee, felt that promotion will be important for the Indian Football ecosystem.

“It’s very important for all clubs, players and officials that we have promotion from the I-League to the ISL. It gives the clubs a lot of incentive to win the league,” said the former India forward. “Not only do you win the I-League and get the prize money and have a title to your name, but you also get to go to the top league, which is a big motivation.”

Shabbir Ali himself had earned promotion as a coach with clubs like Salgaocar in the National Football League and Mohammedan Sporting in the I-League.

“I had helped Salgaocar and Mohammedan gain promotion, and I can tell you that it’s always a brilliant moment for a club, when all things come together and the fruits of your hard work pay its dividends,” he said. “It also means that you have to meticulously plan for the next season. There’s a lot of changes in the squad, and as a coach, you must bring in new players to play at a higher level.”

The 66-year-old also mentioned that over time, the AIFF and its stakeholders need to look into the prospect of bringing in relegation.

“It’s never easy to be relegated, but it is also an essential part of the game. Especially in the latter part of the season, the teams in the bottom half don’t have much motivation on the pitch. You throw relegation into the mix, and they will be fighting tooth and nail to avoid it,” said he. “That makes the league much more competitive.

“Getting in sponsors, setting new budgets for playing at a higher level, signing new players, preparing for higher level operations, these are all part and parcel of the game, and promotion will put that into motion,” said Shabbir Ali. “I was fortunate to experience these. Though the resources may not have been as much back then as they are now, but that excitement of promotion, I feel, will be the same.”

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