CHENNAI: If you’re a young Indian footballer waiting for a chance to play on the big stage, you better think twice about your chosen profession. In a rather dramatic meeting of I-League clubs in New Delhi on Thursday, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan club broke ranks by demanding that they be allowed to have eight foreigners in the squad to ensure parity with Indian Super League franchises.
The move though was opposed by a number of clubs, who pointed out that increasing the number of foreigners was not the way forward for Indian football.
It is understood that Chennai City FC, Aizawl FC, Minerva Punjab FC and new entrants NEROCA FC were dead against the suggestion. DSK Shivajians were neutral as they are planning to field a fully Indian side in the I-League next year.
Shillong Lajong were not present at the meeting, but with their emphasis on grooming youngsters, it would be a wonder if they weren’t against the proposal as well. East Bengal’s and Mohun Bagan’s move took the other clubs by surprise.
Sources revealed that there was a lengthy pre-meeting discussion amongst the clubs where every other issue including an increase in travel subsidy and telecast on Star Sports were discussed, so that they could present a united front in front of I-League officials.
An official from one of the Kolkata clubs was also authorised to present the joint demand to I-League authorities.
But the likes of Ranjit Bajaj from Minerva Punjab was taken by surprise when the proposal to have more foreigners was presented along with the other demands. The proposal called for eight foreign players to be registered, out of which 2 should be of Asian origin, and a maximum of five foreign players be allowed to play on the field, one among which needs to be a player of Asian origin.
“There was absolutely no mention of that in the pre-meeting discussion that we had. I don’t know where that came from,” Ranjit told Express.
“If this goes through, we will go from being I-League to being a foreigners league. This also makes it unsustainable for other clubs. Only the two Kolkata clubs can afford eight foreigners in the squad.
We are trying to spend all that money on youth development instead. That is the way forward for Indian football.”
But East Bengal’s Kalyan Majumdar justified the move saying circumstances had forced them to demand for more foreigners.
“First of all, this is a demand by all I-League clubs, not just the Kolkata clubs,” he said. “With the ISL being held parallel to the I-League, we will find it difficult to sign good Indian players. So we have to sign more foreign players to make up for that.”
The demands will now be discussed by the League Committee on July 5.