Indian Football, finally, has a clear road ahead and it looks positive at the onset.
In an expected move, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has approved All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) request to give formal recognition to the Indian Super League (ISL). The move certifies that Indian football will see two parallel leagues in the upcoming season. AIFF received a letter on Wednesday which consented AIFF’s proposal of having two parallel tournaments.
Signed by AFC General Secretary Data Windsor, the letter confirms that the winners of ISL will get an AFC Cup qualifying spot, which is tier II in Asian football. The I-league, meanwhile, will represent India in the AFC Champions League qualifiers, the first tier, failing to qualify for which; they’ll get an automatic berth in the AFC Cup.
With the ISL set to be longer than its all three previous editions, it will be interesting to see its planning and executions here on. The clubs will no longer be in existence and operations for three months in a year and may contribute immensely to the growth of Indian football.
The happiest benefactor of the same will be Bengaluru FC, who, at one point of time, were in a tumultuous situation about their chances to represent the nation at the continental stage. Shunning the I-league for ISL will anyway see them take a step down, as the club will be part of the ‘Tier-II’ of Indian football.
Until this point, AFC had granted the AFC Champions League play-off spot to the winners of the I-league, which will go to Aizawl FC for next season and the AFC Cup play-off spot was awarded to the Federation Cup, which will see Bengaluru FC representing India in Asia.
Set to start in November, both leagues are expected to run for five-six months and will have a well-laid out map ahead of them. Both the leagues are expected to have 10 teams, with Bengaluru FC being joined by Tata Group’s side from Jamshedpur as the ISL debutants. AIFF’s representatives are set to meet the I-league clubs on Thursday (29th June), to discuss the various aspects of the upcoming season.
It is widely expected that the ISL will shift from a six-foreigner rule to a five or four-foreigner rule, as laid down by the AFC. With the draft imminent this season, it will be interesting to see how teams go ahead in terms of retaining their players and choosing their squads.
Reports on Khel Now had clearly laid out how ISL had not benefitted the home-grown players in line with the general belief but had also affected the footballing scenario adversely as I-league clubs with long legacies suffering shutdowns. With the modified format, we may see more footballers in action, with both the league needing an average of 17 home-grown players.
The move seems to be a huge positive and a road ahead compared to the current scenario. It will be intriguing to see what role Goa-based clubs like Dempo FC, Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa play the next season, having their voluntary exits from the I-league on the pretext of unclear future plans of the AIFF.