The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is looking at a February-March 2017 timeframe in finalising a roadmap for the proposed Indian Super League (ISL), I-League merger, involving 10 or 11 teams, but insisted on Monday on a patient, comprehensive approach rather than a swift and messy unification of the two domestic tournaments.
The planned composite league with all the eight Indian Super League (ISL) and select I-League teams has been in the pipeline for sometime with the AIFF also formulating a rough sketch of the merger with ISL becoming the top-flight tournament and the I-League, to be renamed League One, becoming the second tier event, which has met with ample criticism and confusion. Former champions Salgaocar have already declared to skip the impending I-League, to start in January next year. Fellow Goan clubs are also reportedly mulling the same route but are yet to make public their intentions. The AIFF originally pushed for a 2017-18 unveiling of the new-look league. The governing body is looking to stick to its original deadline. But for that to happen all contentious aspects have to fall in place by February-March next year.
“If we don’t arrive at a amicable plan for the stakeholders, then the plan will be moved back for the 2018-19 season,” AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said, on the sidelines of a book launch named Back To The Roots, written by global football body FIFA’s regional development officer Shaji Prabhakaran, here on Monday. The new league will ideally comprise 10 teams - the eight ISL franchises and two I-League clubs, reigning champions Bengaluru FC and runners-up Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan reportedly better placed at making the cut.
But the AIFF is also open to a 11-team format with another Kolkata heavyweights East Bengal also in the fray. “The number of teams to participate in the league is yet to be decided,” Das added. Accommodating the contrasting demands and ideology and legacy of traditional I-League clubs and the corporate franchises of the ISL have come in the way of the AIFF’s ambitious plan.