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A promotion-relegation system needed: Bhutia

Former India skipper and All-India Football Federation (AIFF) technical committee chairman Bhaichung Bhutia has said that having a system of promotion and relegation between the Indian Super League and League-1 would be a “win-win situation”.

ISL and League-1 (the I-League’s new avatar) occupy the top two slots in the AIFF’s revamped club football structure proposed to take effect from the 2017-18 season. Many non-ISL clubs feel the lack of of a promotion-relegation system could severely disincentivise them.

“Somewhere down the line, there has to be relegation and promotion,” Bhutia said at a Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools event at the Harvest International School here. “Maybe in few years time, we can have promotion from I-League to the ISL. It will provide some motivation, and sponsorship will also come to the I-League.”

The new structure, in which the ISL, League-1 and the League-2 will run parallely for seven months, will solve a number of issues plaguing Indian football, Bhutia said.

“There will be enough time to plan for the national team. Currently we are missing out on a lot of national matches. This [structure] allows us to play the qualifiers and friendlies on FIFA dates which is very important for the rankings,” he said.

“We are also losing a lot of employment for the footballers. A player plays in the ISL, then he goes to the I-League and some even to the second division. So players who don’t play ISL don’t get the chance to play the I-League also,” he pointed out.

When asked if the ISL, as a result, is being given more importance than the national team at present, Bhutia said, “No. That’s the reason we had a long camp in Delhi and then the subsequent friendlies.”

Bhutia also dwelt on the importance of developing football at the grass-roots, and said that the hosting of the 2017 FIFA under-17 World Cup was the best thing to happen to Indian football.

“It really does a lot for our grass-roots development. The number of teams wanting to participate in age-group tournaments like under-15s have increased from around 10 to about 50. It’s huge!” he said.

India’s Messis

“India has a lot of Messis. But we are also losing hundreds of Messis because we don’t know how to identify them. We don’t have a support system,” he said.

“When we hold an under-16 tournament, the state associations do not send the best players. It takes time and good scouts to select them.

“It’s obviously not an easy task, but Nicolai Adam, the Indian under-17 coach, should get to see the best players.”

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