The Indian football federation announced the roadmap in December.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) recently unveiled its roadmap for the future of Indian Football. The roadmap’s long-term vision is for the next 25-year period until 2047. Before that, the AIFF has a set of objectives that it wants to fulfil over the next five years – which is 2027.
Among the priority objectives, one is to shake up the structure of the football league system in India. This involves both the Men’s and Women’s football scene. Here we will look to simplify what exactly the planned structure for the Men’s League system is for the future.
AIFF’s observations over current league system
In AIFF’s analysis of the current league structure across the men’s football scene in India. They’ve seen that there are only three levels of competition. That includes the Indian Super League (ISL), the I-League and the I-League second division. In that, the ISL only has 11 teams.
Out of the 36 state member associations in the AIFF, only 25 conduct top-level state leagues. This includes a low number of matches, in a limited period over a year. There is also an extremely low volume of competition at the state and district level, which AIFF wants to improve.
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How AIFF plans to restructure the Men’s League system
The objective of utmost importance in the AIFF roadmap has been notified as the need for increasing the competitive level and development impact of the existing leagues.
They plan on doing it by increasing the number of participating teams and strengthening the youth pipeline. Basically, the AIFF wants to improve the competitiveness in all the leagues by forming a fluid league system in which almost every league has a healthy amount of teams.
That could see the ISL increased to a 20-league team alongside the I-League in the long run. For the I-League second division, the AIFF also aspires to have 18-20 participating teams in every season.
The AIFF wants to create a definitive competitive pyramid with a concrete club progression pathway. This is aimed to give even the smallest of clubs an opportunity to get promoted all the way to the first division.
In a simplistic way, the AIFF wants to bring a genuine case of promotion and relegation across all the competitive leagues in India. The term ‘club progression pathway’ means the teams in the ‘lowest’ league have a path to get all the way to the top and vice versa.
In AIFF’s new chart, a state association’s top division needs to have 20-25 participating teams. For the district’s top division, that needs to be 40-46 teams. When it comes to a second and third division across both levels, there is a case of negligibility according to if an association has enough teams to fill those two divisions.
Basically, the AIFF will give a team playing at a state or district league a chance to get promoted to the I-League second division. Then to the I-League before being promoted to the ISL if they can progress in a stable manner.
By putting this lucrative opportunity up for grabs, they are encouraging their member associations to create more competitions at the state and district level. The reason behind this is to attract more youngsters into the sport. To give them a dream to being able to reach the very top of Indian football is able to perform to the standards.
AIFF’s big plan for Senior Men’s League Structure
The most ambitious plan which has been created by the AIFF in the roadmap is that the national Men’s league structure. It will be expanded to a four-league structure by the end of 2026.
This is of course taking a cue from many of the European countries, that have a genuine four-league professional league structure in place. This would mean that AIFF needs to introduce a new league competition below the I-League second division. In it the relegated teams from the second division, state or district-level sides and newly formed teams will participate.
For this, however, the AIFF needs to start the promotion-relegation system in the ISL soon. That would allow the champions of the I-League (or potentially even more) to get promoted to the top league and some ISL teams relegated to the I-League.
Interestingly, the AIFF has not really mentioned the prospect of the I-League 2023 winners getting a shot at promotion into the ISL next season – which was in the original roadmap. By setting themselves a date of 2026, this could mean that the I-League champions are made to wait before getting an automatic promotion to the top division.
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