The Indian Football Mess

The recent fight between the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the clubs playing in the I League, clearly shows the instability of the beautiful game in our country.

Indian football has been slowly making inroads into the big leagues on the International level. Rising from the lowest ever rank of 173 in March 2015,  India is now ranked 103rd in the world football ranking, under former coach Stephen Constantine. In 2017, India hosted the U-17 FIFA world cup, and in 2018, the team qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup for only the fourth time ever. India has now won the bid the host the FIFA U-17 women’s world cup in 2020. The AIFF seem to do everything to put India on the International football map. However, the scene inside the country is a bit different.

On February 18, eight I League clubs sent a letter to the AIFF president Praful Patel, in order to clear the air on their future. This was in regards to the proposed merger of the Indian Super League, and the pre-existing I League. However, this letter remained unanswered. Later, when the same clubs threatened to boycott the Hero Super Cup, starting from March 29 and its Qualifiers, they were informed that since Patel was traveling, no date could be fixed for a meeting. When Minerva Punjab FC did boycott their qualifier, the AIFF has finally woken up from their slumber and met with the I League clubs to figure out their future. However, it was already too late for Minevra Punjab, Gokulam Kerala, and Aizawl FC, who have already missed their qualifiers.

A merger between the I League and the ISL will be beneficial for the development of Indian Football, but the format suggested by the AIFF will come at a cost to many of the pre-existing clubs in the I League, who might get demoted. The same was to happen to Aizawl FC last year, but they fought against the federation. However, this year, the victims will be Chennai City FC, who won their maiden title this season after almost getting relegated the last season. Many of the smaller I League clubs will have to play in the second division for the first few years if the merger takes place as planned.

The AIFF do not have much time in their hands. The presence of two official football leagues in the country is not allowed, and the Asian Football Federation has given a deadline of October to come up with a newly merged league and, has also proposed said league to the AIFF. Although they have met the disturbed clubs and resolved the short term issue at hand, the AIFF is still yet to meet and decide on a proper league for Indian Football. Without such a setup, Indian Football will remain where it is, in stagnation.

 

ISL club Bengaluru FC in action against I-League’s East Bengal in the 2018 Super Cup final.