All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel emphasised that I-League remains the country’s premier football competition, but also praised the Indian Super League (ISL) for putting Indian football on the world map.
The federation chief is pulling the I-League clubs and ISL towards a future merger, though the specifics remain to be worked out between the clubs, ISL organiser International Management Group-Reliance and the AIFF.
Speaking after initiating an interaction between the three parties, Patel said: “I-League is India’s main league.
“The Indian Super League may be called a league, but is in fact a tournament, like the Rovers Cup.”
Referring to the purpose of Friday’s meeting, Patel said: “We are working towards one entity in future, bringing together I-League clubs and the ISL. A working group will be formed to work out the path.”
Asked about the success of the ISL, he said: “The ISL has been a reasonable success and getting better. Young players (foreigners) have been signed by the clubs for season two.”
He clarified that it was too early to say when the merger would happen.
“Many more discussions have to take place among the working group, which has representatives from I-League clubs, IMG-R and AIFF.”
Royal Wahingdoh was the only absentee from among I-League club owners or team management attending the meeting. Representatives from IMG and Reliance Industries were also present.
The I-League clubs expressed their views on various aspects, so did IMG-R about the merger concept initiated by the AIFF president. Patel said: “There is naturally anxiety in I-League clubs, especially after the ISL started.
“We are aware about the low attendance due to matches timed at 3p.m. Who will come to watch in that heat?” He added: “Now some club matches are played in the evening. There is also a spill-over effect of the ISL interest on I-League attendances. The game is also getting attention from the corporates.”The Pune FC management and Kalyani Bharat FC official were present. The federation chief ruled out any doubts over their participation.
“Both will be meeting me. As I see it, the three Pune clubs can come together.”
FC Pune City is the only other team from Pune involved in Indian football, competing only in ISL. “We have to look at other issues also when moving towards the merger, there is the issue of heritage clubs in Kolkata and Goa.”
The AIFF chief promised more discussions with clubs and organisations. “We will announce a working group, to be followed by a core group. At a later stage, I wish to call in a few ISL teams for their thoughts.”