The All India Football Federation (AIFF) and their commercial and marketing partners, IMG-Reliance are set to meet Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Monday in Manama, Bahrain to discuss the new ecosystem for Indian football.
On Saturday at a meeting organised at AIFF president Praful Patel’s house, officials from Mohun Bagan, East Bengal were in attendance alongside senior management from the AIFF.
“Mr. Patel informed the representatives that the revised roadmap of Indian football has not yet been finalized and before a final decision is taken, stakeholders including the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) would be consulted,” read a statement from the AIFF.
Patel, Das and a couple of officials from IMG-Reliance will travel to Bahrain wherein they shall meet AFC General Secretary Dato Windsor and Alex Philips, Head of AFC- UEFA Affairs at UEFA.
“There will be two proposals presented to the AFC. India will request for a third spot in the AFC tournaments and should that be granted, the winners of I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL) would get AFC Cup berths while the Super Cup champion will qualify for the Asian Champions League (ACL) play-off.
“If this gets rejected by the AFC, in that case there will be a play-off between the winner of I-League and the ISL with the victorious outfit playing the ACL play-off while the other automatically going into the group stages of the AFC Cup,” informed a top official from the AIFF, who was in attendance at Patel’s residence, on the conditions of anonymity.
In the current format, India has two spots in AFC competitions with the winner of the I-League qualifying for the ACL play-off while the Federation Cup champions make it into the AFC Cup.
Mohun Bagan and East Bengal asked for an assurance that the winner of the I-League will qualify for the ACL play-off in the revamped ecosystem of Indian football to which no guarantees were on offer. Patel mentioned that the ISL, given its success and popularity, also deserves a chance to be a part of the AFC competitions.
It must be noted that Patel took a cue from FIFA president Gianni Infantino's advice where he spoke of the need to make 'compromises' in order to arrive at a right decision which has to be balanced.
The I-League, which will be re-branded as League One under the roadmap for Indian football proposal, and the ISL will be run parallely to which the Kolkata clubs raised an issue of the top players opting to join the latter due to it being financially lucrative. They pointed that only the rejected players plying their trade in the second division would want to join them in this scenario which was a matter of concern for them.
“Yes, the clubs did bring this to the notice of Patel. They also spoke on the logistical challenge with regards to conducting of the two competitions in cities (Pune, Kolkata, Goa, Chennai) where the grounds are shared by an ISL and I-League club. After every game you will need to remove the branding, LED boards and more which is a massive task in itself,” informed another top official of the AIFF.
The Kolkata clubs also questioned is if the I-League will no more get step-motherly treatment as compared to the ISL with regards to the quality of broadcast.
“Patel did assure them that the quality of the telecast will improve and even be on par with what you see for the ISL. However, the clubs did have their doubts on this,” said the AIFF official.
"Patel then asked them to be on the lookout for potential sponsors and maybe in three-to-four years time, once the contractual obligations with ISL clubs end, India can look at having a unified league," he added.
The two giants of West Bengal football asked Patel to share the final proposal to revamp the Indian football ecosystem after his meeting with the AFC officials.