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What could East Bengal and Mohun Bagan signing up for ISL mean for I-League?

Written by: Punit Tripathi

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The Kolkata outfits are in contention to switch to the cash-rich league in the forthcoming season. 

The world’s a dynamic place where change is the only constant. Some of them hurt you, some of them change you for the better and some of them deflate you like there’s no tomorrow. The dual-league system in India is on the verge of witnessing something similar, with a significant shift in stature.

The I-league and the Indian Super League (ISL) had been vying for the more-noticeable status until last season. The competition stopped when the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) allotted the Champions League spot to the former and the AFC Cup slot to the latter. The ISL may have got the second seeding, but certainly won a long and arduous fight, getting recognition from as well as accreditation to the continental body.

One team welcomed the change more than anyone else Bengaluru FC. Indian football’s flagbearer in recent times jumped ships and were certainly impressed by the facilities, that have been time and again highlighted by players, organisers and foreigners alike. With an extended league setup, the ISL reduced its critics considerably.

Came in better contracts, off went the ‘only-foreign-coach’ rule. Slowly and steadily, the IMG-Reliance owned league has crept upwards. The final nail in the coffin, nevertheless, is yet to come.

The next few months could see the I-League’s unofficial prized possessions, Kolkata clubs East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, too shift to the ISL. This would mark a tectonic shift in terms of fan-bases, as Kolkata has been India’s footballing capital since the 1800s.

On Wednesday, Mohun Bagan announced Ripley as their new co-sponsor. The club is reportedly in talks with another sponsor, with enough financial bearing to push the club into the ISL fold. This was clearly indicated by Club President Swapan Sadhan Bose, who also suggested that the Mariners will do everything possible to follow arch-rivals East Bengal into the cash-rich league.

East Bengal announced Quess Corp as their main sponsors on Thursday

On Thursday, East Bengal also announced Quess Corp as their main sponsors for the next 10 years in a mega-deal. While club official Debabrata Sarkar was asked about the club's chances of joining the ISL this season, he gave no clear response, but revealed that the club would 'obviously' bid for a slot in the league, if the bidding process is open. Quess Corp officials also gave a similar response when asked them about the same.



The game of cat-and-mouse has lasted longer than usual now and looking at the marketing might of the clubs, a financier is just a call away. Let’s take a look at what could happens if East Bengal and Mohun Bagan move to the ISL.

The I-league stands to lose and to gain as well

Khel Now, had, in a report published in 2017, clearly suggested that the six- foreigner rule in the I-league was vehemently backed by the Kolkata clubs, and the move should be receded. It was said that the move is make-shift for a year, and thus it harms Indian football more than anything else.

The league can now focus back on creating better Indian players, something Minerva Punjab showcased brilliantly last season, winning the league with unheralded players who showed grit and determination, certainly helped by the creativity of Chencho Gyeltshen.

The depletion, too, is remarkable. Fans have not really thronged the stadiums of the I-league anywhere other than Kolkata. NEROCA FC, Shillong Lajong, Gokulam Kerala and Chennai City have had measurable traffic, but the hype of a Kolkata Derby and the footfall it generates, is certain to leave the I-league poorer.


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Will the ISL continue to be a 10-team tournament?

If Khel Now sources are to be believed, two ISL teams are looking for new owners for the upcoming season. The ISL mechanism has time and again worked on sponsors and if the two teams lurking in the red zone can find themselves new healers, the ISL could be extended to a 12-team format.

The secondary situation looks unlikely, for now. Khel Now sources have also revealed that one of the sponsors from an ISL side is willing to contribute to one of the Kolkata clubs' cause, but talks are at a premature stage as of now.

If the ISL turns into a 12-team league with both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in its plethora of endowments, does it means the death knell for the I-league? We will let you ponder that for a while.

Will we see the return of Goan power in the I-league?

If Kolkata leaves the I-league, will we see arguably Indian football’s second biggest hotbed, return to the mix actively, like the good old times? Will Dempo, Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa join Churchill Brothers to ensure quality football talent is on display and the nostalgic essence of the I-league persists?

There are a lot of questions left hanging, but it will all be clear in the near future. As an Indian football fan, sit back, cheer for the national team and wait as things take their course. For good, for bad, or for the worse, its upto you to decide.

Published: Fri Jul 06, 2018 01:28 PM IST

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