One League! Not So Much! - THE INDIAN LEAGUE

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Saturday, 21 May 2016

One League! Not So Much!

The much anticipated Round Table meeting called by AIFF President, Praful Patel to discuss the merger of ISL and I-League turned out to be a PowerPoint Presentation by FSDL, on what will be Indian Football's structure, come 2017.

The much talked about merger between ISL, the football 'tournament' with glitz and glamour with its poor cousin, I-League had been a matter of debate among the fans of Indian Football since long and this meeting was supposed to give out a road map on the merger. And it gave a road map, though a bit different.

NOT A MERGER

As per the plan presented by FSDL, Indian League Structure will have three tiers with ISL being the Premier Football League of India. All the present 8 teams of ISL will get direct entry with two more teams to be added.


The format will be same as the one currently being followed in ISL, double Round Robin followed by 2-legged semi-final and final. All the clubs will have to comply with AFC Club licencing criteria which will enable them to compete in Asian Level competitions.

The Second Division will be called League One and comprise of the current I-League Clubs. This again will be a 10 team League but with no promotion to the top tier. Though teams finishing last will get relegated. League One teams will also be supposed to follow Club licencing criteria.

The Third Division will be renamed League Two, comprising teams currently playing in 2nd Division League. The League will again have 10 teams and the format being similar to the one used in the ongoing 2nd Division league. There will be Promotion/Relegation between League One and League
Two.



All the three leagues will run parallely with most of the matches to be played over weekends. For 2017/18 season, the Leagues will start from November, as U17 World Cup is to be held between September-October. The season will be 5 month long and conclude in March. From 2018/19 season, the season will start from September and conclude in March, making it a 7 month long.

SUPER CUP

A new Cup Competition, replacing the existing Federation Cup will be introduced from the 2017/18 season and will be called Super Cup. This competition will be opened to all the clubs across the three tiers. Top 8 clubs of ISL and Top 4 clubs of League One will get get direct entry to the Group Stages with the rest of the teams going through a Qualification Round to fill rest of the 4 spots.


The Group Stage will see 16 teams divided in 4 Groups with top 2 teams making it to the Quarter Finals. The finalists of the Super Cup will get a chance to represent India in AFC Champions League/ AFC Cup.

Super Cup will be a two month affair, occupying April-May in football calendar.

BROADCAST

One of I-League's biggest drawback has been its shoddy broadcast, which ISL has been able to avoid thanks to Star Sports, who are also the partners of the League. To provide better exposure to newly created League One and give the viewers a better product, FSDL announced that League One matches will be broadcasted on Star Sports bouquet of Channels as well as on digital platform.

League Two matches will also be broadcasted on digital platforms.

CHAMPIONS CUP

To provide the National Team more matches in a calendar year, AIFF/FSDL will revive Nehru Cup, which it has rechristened as Champion Cup. It will be a 4 Team invitational tournament, involving teams between 120-140 in FIFA Rankings. The inaugural edition will be held in August 2017 with Chennai and Bengaluru being the provisional venues.


VERDICT

The proposal looks good on paper but implementation will be the key to its success. AIFF's Project Lakshya was expected to change India's fortune in football but we all know how it ended.

A horde of question still linger about the new road map and has been met with mixed reaction by fans and administrators of the game. The most important being will clubs like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal get to play in ISL. With only two spots on offer and Bengaluru FC already showing their interest in playing in ISL, it will be very difficult for these two Kolkata giants to find a place in top division.

Officials of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have already expressed their displeasure on the new Structure and will take necessary course of action in coming days.

AIFF President, Praful Patel and Reliance Sports CEO, Sundar Raman clarifying that this is just a draft and final plan will be implemented only after taking inputs from clubs and stakeholders. With almost one and half year to go for the implementation of the plan, it will be interesting to see how everything works out in the end.