Six I-League clubs - Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Minerva Punjab, Gokulam Kerala, Aizawl FC and Churchill Brothers - have been up in arms against the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) imminent move to hand the AFC Champions League (ACL) qualifier spot to the Indian Super League (ISL) winners.
The proposed move, which would see ISL become India's de facto top league instead of the I-League, has been resisted by the aforementioned clubs who have projected a united front and have threatened to take the Indian FA to court.
The details of the same is very well documented by now but are the six clubs united in their cause? Sources close to the AIFF have cast a doubt on that.
Six I-League clubs had met with AIFF President Praful Patel on July 3 to discuss their concerns regarding the future of the I-League. The meeting with Praful Patel was considered a groundbreaking development considering that the clubs have been angling for a meet with him for quite a few months.
The President had suggested to the clubs that I-League will continue in parallel to the ISL for three more years. While he promised better broadcast for the I-League, it was suggested that the ACL spot will would go to the ISL winners while the I-League champions would get the AFC Cup play-off spot.
After initially agreeing to the same, the six clubs changed their stance and demanded that the status quo be maintained apart from ensuring better broadcast and a host of other demands.
However, it has been revealed that Mohun Bagan, in particular, met with Praful Patel in the lead up to the aforementioned meeting. East Bengal, on the other hand, have had a couple of meetings with Praful Patel in Mumbai before the Super Cup issue where Chairman Ajit Issac had requested the AIFF President to find a way to include them in the ISL.
A high ranking official from the AIFF, on the condition of anonymity, revealed to Goal, "Mohun Bagan official Debashish Dutta met with the President individually before the meeting on July 3rd where they discussed the future roadmap and also how the Mariners can be included in the ISL.
"He tried to cut a deal for his club, angling for a spot in the ISL in the near future. But an agreement could not be reached which could be the reason they have sought support from the other I-League clubs and did a u-turn after the July 3 meeting. East Bengal, on several occasions in the recent past, had requested us to find a way to include them in the ISL. They tried to cut a side deal."
The revelation throws a cloud of doubt on the unity of the I-League front, especially given that clubs like Minerva Punjab and Gokulam Kerala have relied on the history and fanbase that the Kolkata clubs enjoy in their fight against the AIFF's proposed decision to elevate ISL.
It is an open secret that Football Sports Development Ltd (FSDL), AIFF's commercial partners, had helped the two Kolkata clubs find sponsors after they had picked up the ISL bid document two years back.
FSDL had helped Mohun Bagan speak with the likes of Indian Premier League (IPL) side Kolkata Knight Riders and then Venky Mysore. However, the club could not reach an agreement with any of them. They also failed to strike up a merger deal with ATK recently due to an insistence on club logo, jersey colours and name.
East Bengal were then set up with Tata Steel. However, the talks fell through for similar reasons as Bagan and ATK's. Tata Steel went on to pick up the document on their own, winning the Jamshedpur franchise.
Debashish Dutta vehemently denied that such a meeting ever took place, when Goal reached out to him. Ajit Issac, on the other hand, remained unavailable for comment.