Indian football: Roadmap for future of Indian Super League and I-League explained

As the AIFF and its partners delve their plans to reinvigorate the domestic arm of football, Goal elucidates the changes in the fabric to all Indian football aficionados...

GOAL SPECIAL REPORT    |   BY   RAHUL BALI   Follow @rahulatma on Twitter

Indian football's fettle starts at the doorstep of the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) headquarters in New Delhi. Representatives of the governing body and their chief marketing partners IMG-Reliance led consortium proposed a plan to the members of all league clubs in India, alongside select members of the football fraternity for the restructuring of the nation's football edifice so as to raise the profile of the game in the subcontinent. 

As per information received by Goal of the high-profile meeting, involving only selected member of the Indian football fraternity, that took place on Tuesday, 17th May, the AIFF's roadmap for the future consists of three leagues in a hierarchical system. No complete merger between the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League is mooted for now. The expansive shake-up has its tentacles reach the Federation Cup as well as football on the international front, including women's football.

Also important here is that the custodians of Indian football want to stretch their influence into every state and territory in the dominion of India, especially considering that out of 29 states and seven Union Territories, only 15 states have representatives in all domestic tiers as of now. The aim is to involve a total of 50 teams across the three leagues by the year 2020.

The range of restructuring is as specified below however, this is the first stage of the proposal. AIFF and IMG-Reliance will re-work the overall plan on the basis of suggestions from the stakeholders in Indian football including the players, clubs and members of the media. A presentation of the final plan will be made to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).


The first and foremost point to note in the overhaul is that from 2017 onwards, Indian football will have three leagues in its pyramid. The lowest block in the hierarchy has been christened 'League Two'. All League Two teams will correspond directly with the I-League's second division, with the new league consisting of 10 teams. Promotion is guaranteed for the teams finishing top of the table. The AIFF will look for teams from unrepresented areas such as Bihar, Nagaland, Uttar Pradesh and so on.

The second tier of India's new football structure is called the 'League One'. This corresponds directly with the I-League. 10 teams will participate in this league as well, with relegation a part of their system. 

The top tier of Indian football will de facto be the ISL. Here besides the eight teams already participating in the three-month league currently, the committee is looking to add few (number not decided upon) teams to the league. However, there will be no relegation or promotion for now.

NOTE - It is yet to be decided as to how many I-League teams will be absorbed into the new top tier of Indian football. All that is certain is that the ISL will be open to new teams, besides being reinvigorated into a league of a longer duration. The new teams will be picked through a tendering process.


Much hullabaloo has been raised about the seasons and the period of operation of all three leagues in India. The ISL currently runs from October to December, all of two and a half months, while the I-League, India's present top tier, operates in the months between January and April. The Federation Cup, one of India's oldest cup competitions after the Durand Cup, runs in the month of May. 

In 2017, the first set of changes will be implemented to the time periods of these leagues. We must note here that India hosts the U17 World Cup in October next year, so a bit of shuffling has to be done to accommodate the headline tournament in the subcontinent.

Firstly, all three leagues are expected to run from November to March over a period of five months. The Federation Cup, now re-christened as Super Cup, 2017-18 will then have its run in April and May. 

Then, in the 2018-19 season, the three leagues in India will run from September to March - seven months followed by the Super Cup.


To ensure that the standard of all clubs operating in India is raised and maintained with international ones, the participants are expected to ensure they fulfil the club licensing criteria for their respective leagues. 

GOAL READ MORE  | AFC congratulates AIFF for adopting club licensing

All ISL and League One clubs will have to clear the AIFF's club licensing criteria which has been set in direct correspondence with the AFC club license stipulations. Meanwhile, the League Two clubs will also follow the same criteria but not to the fullest extent. A competent set of licensing criteria is expected to bind entry into the leagues and all participants within. 


A major pitfall of Indian football presently is its inability to help the vast population of football aficionados grasp domestic football at all levels. Therefore as part of a wave of television reform, League One will broadcast on the Star Network's sports channel bouquets and all matches will be streamed digitally. 

League Two will be broadcasted digitally and possibly on regional channels as well. The ISL, as is now, will be available for viewership on the Star network and digital platform.


Besides these points, the AIFF is guaranteed to provide massive financial assistance to all the clubs, particularly new entrants, who seek it in the reformed leagues. League One clubs are expected to gain a large share with the Indian FA ready to open their purse strings. 

League Two clubs will have a far greater share of inflow from the AIFF coming in through their revenue streams.

The ISL clubs will earn their revenue share from the central profit of the ISL. 


Naturally, for all three of the proposed leagues to run simultaneously, a greater number of stadiums will be required. In light of that, the AIFF will work with the State Associations to look for new venues and the State Governments to upgrade existing stadiums.