Former Goa star calls for AIFF to improve I-League over IMG-Reliance tourney

Lector Mascarenhas, a Goan great and a former India international spoke against the IMG-Reliance tournament and asked the AIFF to focus on improving the I-League

It seems that almost every day there is one new suitor to come out and criticize the All India Football Federation (AIFF)’s decision to back the IPL style league proposed by their chief marketing sponsors IMG-Reliance. If it was P.K. Bannerjee lashing out against the tournament last week, it is the turn of former India international Lector Mascarenhas to do the same.

“All over the world it’s the club culture (support) which is the mainstay of football leagues. Here in India, we are gradually heading towards professionalism by introducing club licensing. Clubs as separate entities is the right path towards professionalism wherein membership could be opened up and people in general can have a stake in it. That's one way to bring in the crowds for our I-League, as it is happening in Kolkata,” said Lector to Herald Goa.

The former Goa star felt that the introduction of the IMG-Reliance tournament could marginalize the I-League resulting in clubs suffering the same fate as JCT and Mahindra United.

Lector suggested that the I-League take the notion put forth by Churchill Brothers supremo Churchill Alemao to increase the prize money for the I-League champions from Rs 70 lakhs to 5 crores so as to allow clubs to bring quality players from abroad and invest in club infrastructure. Mascarenhas pointed to the example of the J-League as a model for India to follow.

“We need to follow the Japanese way (J-League) and not the Cricket IPL( T-20 ) way to walk the road towards professionalism in football,” said Lector.

“It is a well-known fact that the J-League in Japan became a huge success because they invested in the infrastructure and also roped in legendary Zico, very popularly known as a white ‘Pele’, to attract the crowds during the initial stages way back in 1993,” he added.

Zico played a vital role in improving the J-LEague

Zico was one of the founding advisors of J-League and had played for Kashima Antlers (Football Club in J-league).  He was also used heavily in all forms of promotional material; billboards, commercials, video games and even features on television shows utilized his marketability in a country where even those not familiar with football knew his name Zico then went on to lead the Japanese national team from 2002 to 2006 and won the Asian Cup qualifier and also led Japan to the FIFA World Cup Germany 2006.

“Players like Gary Linekar, Michael Laudrup, Dunga, Hristro Stoichkov, Bebeto and others followed to make J-League one of the best in Asia and competitive enough to be compared with the best of the leagues in the world,” stressed Lector.

“The IGM-Reliance tournament will no doubt be a success temporarily, given the huge investment likely to be done by the corporates/individuals, something akin to IPLT-20 cricket but may end up destroying the immense good that the clubs have done all these years. In cricket, there is neither club culture nor any club competition worth its salt and so T-20 IPL is not a threat to other competitions. Despite this, experts say that T-20 will destroy the other formats of the game in the years to come,” he added.

The Goan called for the AIFF to divert its attention towards making the I-League more attractive by increasing the prize money, help the clubs to improve the infrastructure, make it more spectator friendly by having matches under floodlights and also telecast the matches live to reach out to all football lovers in the country.

He also felt that players like Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, who are on the final stages of their illustrious careers, should be enticed to play in India so as to attract the crowds and encourage youngsters in the country.