The protesting clubs have already withdrawn from the upcoming Super Cup.
Eight I-League clubs recently proposed their own roadmap to the All India Football Federation, as their first step to restructuring India’s football ecosystem. The suggested roadmap involves a unified league with teams from I-League and the ISL and according to I-League CEO Sunando Dhar, the proposal will be given its due respect.
The clubs who proposed the roadmap are Chennai City, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, NEROCA FC, Churchill Brothers, Gokulam Kerala, Minerva Punjab and Aizawl FC.
“At the end of the day, all ISL, I-League and second division clubs are our babies. They have been in existence before AIFF itself,” Dhar said.
Dhar also stated that although he has not seen the proposal made by the I-League teams, he’s confident that the club owners will always think of the betterment of Indian football.
“I have not seen the plan, but what they will think it will be for the betterment of Indian football. So, whatever suggestions come from their side it will not be thrown in the dustbin and people will look at it. If it is a good plan that can be implemented, then why not? They are the main stakeholders in this and any plan coming from them would be taken up very seriously,” he added.
He assured that the federation will work at the plans for restructuring the league in India, but also pointed out that the process was full of complications. He said, “It is not about I-League or ISL, but it is about finding the right footballing ecosystem. It is not easy, but complicated. Obviously, there will be a first division, a second division and hopefully followed by a third division. There are some contractual obligations which stop relegation and promotion, but ultimately football should flourish and we would start that.”
“I am not saying which clubs will be in the top tier. That is a work in progress. Sure we would try to get a model which would please the maximum number of people. If there are no contractual obligations, there would be relegation and promotion,” quipped Dhar.
The I-League CEO is disappointed with the I-League teams pulling out of the Super Cup, after their demand for a meeting with AIFF President Praful Patel was not met. However, Dhar feels confident that once the issues are sorted out the clubs will look to play in the knockout tournament.
In the meantime, AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das also expressed his feelings about the proposed plan of the I-League clubs and assured them that Patel will hold a meeting with all the club owners before the final leg of the Super Cup.
“The president is campaigning in Gondia right now. He’s been travelling. He’s campaigning for two things – the Lok Sabha elections, the FIFA council seat. So, he’s been busy. Hopefully, [it will be sorted] before the Super Cup final round,” said Das.
He also added that the federation has given the clubs a deadline till March 21 and within that date, the clubs must inform them about their decision regarding participation in the Super Cup, following which the federation will take necessary measures.
He also expressed his views regarding the proposed roadmap given by the I-League clubs as he said, “We have always said that as per the contractual obligations with the marketing partner (FSDL), the ISL has to be the top league. But, we’ve held it back for some years so that we find a middle path.
If the bid opens, then some of the clubs can bid. Then, slowly next year again it can be opened up. You can’t merge twenty clubs just like that. There are huge financial implications. As it is, it’s difficult to find a sustainable model for football. If you merge just like that without any planning, it’ll lead to big issues with the clubs, the marketing partner, the broadcaster, the sponsor, the whole ecosystem.”
He also spoke about the difficulties in slashing the franchise fee due to several contractual obligations. Das further added, “There are clubs paying their franchise fee. Then if you’re trying to get somebody without paying the franchise fee right now, it can lead to problems with the existing clubs. So, when the contractual obligations with the existing clubs get over after ten years, then it may be considered.”
“We have always said that ultimately there has to be a league structure with promotion/relegation. The introduction (of such a structure) has to be timed properly because we also have to find a sustainable model. See, in Europe, when a team gets relegated, there is a parachute payment as they call it.”
“Those kind of things are not there in the Indian system right now. Let’s take Kerala Blasters, for example. If there’s relegation and if there’s no parachute payment to support them, especially after they’ve invested so much, then it’ll be a problem for them.”
A lot of questions lie ahead of us, but answers are none. It will be interesting to see how Patel reacts to the proposed structure from the I-League clubs and what the future holds for them.