Next move AIFF as AFC leaves four solutions for I-League - Indian Super League conundrum

Praful Patel, FPAI Indian Football Awards 2013
Zamyad Meherji
The governing body of football in the largest continent has left the Indian FA with four options from which to devise a strategy...

There were a lot of expectations from the Indian footballing fraternity when the bigwigs of Indian football went into a huddle with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Dato Windsor on Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur to sort out the future structure of domestic football in India

Representatives of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), three Indian Super League (ISL) and seven I-League clubs, Football Players Association of India (FPAI) and IMG-Reliance were all present at the meeting, from which a positive outcome was expected. 

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As Goal reported earlier in the day, AFC General Secretary Dato Windsor and Head of AFC- UEFA Affairs at UEFA Alex Philips made several recommendations to the AIFF from which they are to devise a solution in the short-term. The idea to opt for a short-term solution for now is based on the premise of Bengaluru FC having made it into the AFC Cup knockout stages with them having to register players at least 15 days before their home game on August 23 against DPR Korea’s 4.25 SC.

The AIFF's Executive Committee is expected to meet as early as on Thursday and decide to embrace one of the four proposed scenarios. So what are the pathways that the AFC has dangled in front of the Indian FA? We will explain: 

  1. The first scenario is maintaining the status quo. The ISL and I-League will be held in their current three-month formats, one tournament after the other with the continental spot allocation also remaining the same. Basically, if the AIFF decides to take this road, ISL clubs will not have a chance to represent India in AFC competitions. 
  2. The second scenario is to hold an extended ISL and I-League running parallel with winners of the two tournaments being awarded the AFC competition slots. However, the winners of I-League are expected to receive the AFC Champions League (ACL) play-off spot while the ISL champions will have to settle for the AFC Cup play-off slot. 
  3. According to the third scenario, both the leagues will be held simultaneously as mentioned in the above scenario. But the top two teams from each competition will take part in a separate playoff.
  4. The final scenario is the merger of I-League and ISL into a unified competition which consists of 16 teams with the top two teams being awarded the continental slots. 

Praful Patel, Kushal Das and Subrata Dutt posing with the coveted award in AFC Annual Awards Abu Dhabi 2016

The AFC are expected to approve AIFF's decision on the how Indian football should be structured in the short-term and as such, the ball is in the Indian FA's court now. The Executive Committee meeting on Thursday assumes huge significance as a decision is likely to be taken during the course of it. 

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The chances of AIFF going for the first or fourth scenario are extremely low and an extended ISL and I-League running simultaneously looks to be the most likely option. The Indian FA are believed to be in favour of option two for now. This would mean that an ISL winner would get AFC recognition. Thereafter, new teams joining the ISL will be announced in the days to follow.

However, Federation Cup finalists Mohun Bagan have asked AIFF to wait until June 12th before coming to a final decision. Whether the AIFF opts to delay the decision in view of the request or not, Indian football is set for several immense decisions in the next few days.