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IMG-Reliance keen to start an eight team franchisee competition, I-League likely to follow the MLS model

IMG-Reliance, the commercial and marketing partners of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), as per the agreement signed back in 2010, were to come up with an “an elite world class professional domestic league which will showcase the best available Indian and international talent.”

Given that they have been openly criticized in the past by clubs, fans and media alike for their lack of professionalism in coming up with a concrete plan wherein they have missed the deadlines provided by themselves in the first place, they have finally managed to come up with a concept which shall has raised divided opinions.

It was back on the 27th of last month that Jefferson Slack, the IMG's senior vice-president, global business development, football, had a meeting in Mumbai with AIFF general secretary, Kushal Das and the CEO of the I-League, Sunando Dhar and briefed them on the roadmap ahead which highlighted the need of coming up with a commercially viable structure which shall ensure return on investment for both the organizers and the participants while developing a keen interest in the game across cities wherein the I-League has yet to make a mark.

On the 10th of this month, Das, Dhar, Rob Baan, the technical director of Indian football, along with a couple of IMG-Reliance representatives met Praful Patel, the AIFF president, to enlighten him on the above and seek his opinion wherein it was decided that the final presentation, after several rounds of brainstorming, would be put forward on July 19 following which there could be a dialogue with the I-League clubs on the same.

According to sources close to, IMG-Reliance are mooting an eight team franchisee based system wherein each of them would tie up with a European club for technical assistance and at the same time, get a few players who are on the verge on retirement but are popular names in this part of the world. This shall certainly capture the mind of young Indian football fans given that they are fixated with European football and aren’t as keen on the desi version of the beautiful game.

What this model could do is create enough hype in the country and change the people’s perception towards football in India and thereby allow more corporate investment which shall only aid in the development, if the money is invested back into the game locally.

It is also reliably learnt that IMG-Reliance have made enquiries on the availability of stadiums across the country for the said competition which is likely to see the light of the day sometime early next year.

One of the challenges for the conceptualizers has been as to how to accommodate the signings of the players during the transfer window, something which they have been working on lately with one of the propositions being that the I-League players be allowed to feature in this competition with some transfer fee being paid to the clubs which shall only go to benefit them.

What about the I-League?

However this development could see the devaluation of the I-League which shall certainly leave many clubs in the lurch wondering whether their investment in the game does matter to the concerned authorities, who to some extent have been oblivious to their issues pertaining to sustainability.

In order to keep them satiated, IMG-Reliance and the AIFF are to propose an MLS-style model for the I-League wherein the 14 teams would be divided into eastern and western zones, as opposed to conferences. The top two from each zone would thereby be involved in a knockout round wherein the winner would be decided.

The clubs opine that this wouldn’t be an attractive proposal for them given that the I-League would certainly not be pan-India and would be further localized which doesn’t leave much difference between the local state leagues and the national league.

Kushal Das has however assured the clubs that their interests are certainly kept in mind before any model for the new league comes up.

“We are certainly cognizant of the clubs’ interests. I do not know from where the ‘IPL-style league’ words have been used in the media. If we are speaking of a franchisee-based system, then yes. And IPL is only one of the formats which uses it,” said Das.

On being asked whether this was the proposal for Indian football to realize its potential which IMG-Reliance has promised the I-League clubs to come up with by April 20 this year, Das said, “The long term plan for Indian football is a continuous process than just a model which can be implemented for now.”

The clubs' interests would be kept in mind: Dhar

Dhar has given surety that the format of the game wouldn’t be compromised in the new proposed competition by IMG-Reliance.

“The rules will always be the same and we won’t come up with a concept like ’20-20 football.’ However we can’t cut and paste the IPL model in football. The AIFF’s idea is that if we do have separate tournaments (the I-League and the new competition as proposed by IMG-Reliance) then there has to be some link between them as we can’t really dump the clubs and form a new IPL.

“I am sure the I-League clubs are the major stakeholders and we can’t ignore their thoughts and contribution to Indian football. We won’t do something detrimental to their interests. The new league was always part of the deal with IMG-Reliance and something that they had to come up with,” explained Dhar.

He further gave the example of the much maligned Premier League Soccer (PLS) on as to how it caught the imagination of sponsors and media alike just when they were associated with half a dozen of former top footballers from across the world.

“The idea of partnering top European clubs and getting their players to ply their trade here is exciting enough. Obviously we cannot get the likes of Messi and Ronaldo. We have already seen what three or four players did for the PLS.

“But when you are planning something bigger and on a larger scale, the interest will be that many times higher. It shall definitely send good feelers to the market.”

It must be remembered that IMG-Reliance’s obligation to AIFF is to rebuild the sport from grassroots to professional game so that a sustainable sporting model is created providing the platform for the national teams to reach their full potential on the international stage in AFC Asian tournaments and ultimately in the FIFA World Cup.

However whether this is the way ahead to achieve the above, the opinions are divided for sure.


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