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Relegation with thin ray of hope for I-League

ISL to be top tier of Indian football from this season with winners getting AFC Champions League spot, promotion for second-tier clubs later on the cards

Published: 15th October 2019 09:59 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th October 2019 09:59 AM   |  A+A-

Representatives of I-League and ISL clubs with AFC general secretary Dato’ Windsor John (C) in Kuala Lumpur on Monday

Express News Service

CHENNAI: After years of repeated wrong turns, Indian football finally has a roadmap.The plan that was announced after the much-hyped meeting, between the All India Football Federation, the Asian Football Confederation and the representatives of clubs, has its positives. While it — as expected — does relegate the I-League second tier and offers no immediate respite to the clubs, it leaves hope for the future. Two I-League clubs can bid to enter the ISL after next season (2020-21) — tongues are already wagging that this is a provision for East Bengal and Mohun Bagan to enter the league. Indeed Mohun Bagan finance secretary Debasish Dutta, while stating he was happy with the plan in general, confirmed as much. “Mohun Bagan will definitely try to enter the ISL after the 2020-21 season,” he said.

But two years after that — at the end of the 2022-23 season — the winner of the I-League will be promoted to the ISL, this time without having to go through a bidding process or paying an entry fee. This will be the case for the winner of the next season as well. However, it remains to be noted that any promotion is subject to the club fulfilling the club licensing criteria — only Chennai City FC managed to pass the criteria this year, among I-League clubs.

Then, in the 2024-25 season, there will be only one league with the structure as per what the AIFF decided earlier. It will have promotion and relegation and will run alongside a cup competition. “Every point of this package — and it’s a package — has been thought-out carefully and it is aimed simply at providing the best chance to develop Indian club football. We have informed AIFF that 10-12 teams are not enough for the top league — it must be bigger,” said AFC general secretary Dato’ Windsor John.

Not everyone was happy with the deal though. “It would have been better had AFC made ISL the top-tier league with promotion and relegation,” said Gokulam Kerala president VC Praveen. “As an I League club, one has to wait for a minimum period of three years to get promoted to the top-tier league. I only wish that after three years AIFF/AFC shouldn’t change their stand on this roadmap.”

His concerns were echoed by Rohit Ramesh, owner of defending I-League Chennai City FC, who remarked that the whole thing could have been handled better by the AIFF. “This decision could have come officially once the 18-19 season was over,” he said. “Letting us know this late will have implications, especially on the sponsorship front. All are looking beyond and into the future but the reality is some of the clubs will be hit badly this year.”

Chennai City recently entered into a landmark partnership with Swiss side FC Basel and Rohit also expressed concerns over how this partnership would be affected now that they were a second-tier side. “It’s a slap on the face for our partners from FC Basel,” he said. “They trusted this country and invested through us to develop sports in a big way. But life goes on and we will work closely with our partners to develop football in our own way.”

Chhetri & Co target first win 
KOLKATA: Buoyed by their goalless draw against Asian champions Qatar, India would be looking to register their first win in the World Cup qualifiers when they take on Bangladesh on Tuesday. 

Indian football roadmap

A look at the proposed roadmap for Indian football suggested by the Asian 
Football Confederation...

2019-20
ISL becomes the top league and the winners get a spot in the AFC Champions League qualifiers. I-League winners get a spot in AFC Cup.
2020-21
Two I-League clubs to be offered entry into ISL at the end of season. While no official statement has been made on how these two will be selected, it’s understood there’ll be a bidding process.
2021-22
Status quo will be maintained as far as the ISL is concerned, but the AIFF will have to decide during this year what format a unified league would have at the end of the roadmap period.
2022-23
The I-League winners will be promoted to ISL without any fee paid. They will have to fulfill the National Club Licensing criteria (something that all but one I-League club failed this year). No relegation in ISL.
2023-24
I-League champions get an ISL slot without paying an entry fee. They will, however, forgo the pay-out from the central pool. No relegation in ISL.
2024-25
There will only be one league this season with promotion and relegation, with the  previous structure. There will also be a cup competition and a lower division league.

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