..reject the idea to give ACL slot to ISL; while Bhutia urges to Indian football stakeholders: Drop your egos, work together
Six I-League clubs on Thursday accepted the All India Football Federation's proposal to maintain the status quo by continuing I-League and Indian Super League for another 2-3 years but rejected the idea of ISL winners being given the AFC Champions League slot.
AIFF president Praful Patel had Wednesday assured the I-League clubs that he will approach the AFC to ensure the two leagues co-exist for another 2-3 years, after a meeting with representatives of the clubs, who threatened to move court against the federation's plan to make ISL the top league.
Patel had asked the I-League clubs to respond to his proposals within 24 hours and they did that on Thursday but rejected the AIFF's suggestion on the crucial issue of who represents India in the AFC Champions League play-offs.
In a joint statement issued by Minerva Punjab, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Aizawl FC, Churchill Brothers and Gokulam Kerala, the clubs thanked Patel for hearing their grievances and said they agreed to the broadcast and scheduling plans for the upcoming I-League season.
"In the spirit of compromise, I-League clubs agree to the broadcast plan and scheduling plans for the upcoming season even though it is not ideal. I-League clubs also agree to continue with the two league system for another 3 years despite initially demanding immediate resolution with a unified league," the statement said.
"However, the clubs are not in favour of giving away their rightfully earned and longstanding AFC Champions league spot till a proper plan for unified league is initiated.
"The United I-League clubs insist that the AFC Champions league spot must remain with the I-League as it is the I-League clubs that have (over the years) earned the AFC spots for India to enjoy today. The AIFF has already granted AFC Cup slot to ISL in 2017 and the same arrangement should continue till there is one unified league."
The I-League clubs also submitted a 10-point 'Roadmap for League Football in India' to the AIFF, which, among others, pitched for the formation of a Working Group with representations from the AIFF, FSDL, I-League and ISL clubs to plan for the introduction of a unified league involving both I-League and ISL clubs with promotion and relegation.
The roadmap recommended that a tri-partite agreement be signed between AIFF, FSDL and I-League clubs, giving details of the arrangement for the next three years to avoid recurring confrontations among the stakeholders.
It also recommended the immediate formation of an I-League Committee with representatives from AIFF and I-League clubs with sole responsibility of taking decisions regarding I-League, 2nd Division league and Youth Leagues.
The I-League Committee will negotiate and finalise the production house and 50 percent of the total cost of production to be borne by FSDL with the remaining 50 percent to be paid by AIFF.
The other recommendations are: I-league to be referred as the National Football League; I-League champions to get AFC Champions League slot; all matches of I-League to be shown live on HD Channel with improved production quality (8 camera set up with specifications mentioned); I-League matches to start at 5 pm and 7 pm (for non-floodlight venues, kick off timings to be 2 pm/3 pm).
The I-League clubs said that the roadmap needs to be approved by the AIFF Executive Committee and should be simultaneously announced, giving all details, including present status of I-League and ISL, and the future plan also.
Earlier in the day, former India captain Baichung Bhutia on Thursday said stakeholders of Indian football need to "drop their egos" and make a few sacrifices while deciding the structure of the country's domestic league, which remains an unresolved matter due to lack of consensus.
"I think the biggest challenge right now is to keep the egos down. It has to be give and take. Everything can't be the way you want. It has to be a bit of sacrifice for all the parties (I-League, ISL and AIFF), keeping your egos down, looking at the betterment of Indian football," Bhutia said at the Football Players Association of India's new building.
"Everybody right now is looking at their own clubs to survive, their own league to do well... Yes, there are different challenges in I-League and there are also pluses and minuses in it. We have got a same thing for the Federation and ISL as well."
"The structure of Indian football, sooner it gets settled, the better. Till the time you don't get your structure this is going to go on happening. Federation's biggest challenge with ISL and I-League is to get the structure right."
One of the biggest icons of Indian football further said that ISL's diminishing popularity could be revived by the inclusion of Kolkata's two heavyweights -- Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
"Today if you play a Spanish League and if you do not play Barcelona or Real Madrid then the charm of the league no more exits. By bringing them into the top league will only add to the passion and the competition will be much better. I'm sure one day they will get in.
"ISL will definitely benefit with East Bengal and Mohun Bagan coming in. These clubs have a lot of history, they bring in fans to the stadium. The I-League name can be changed. What we need right now is a top league with the big clubs of East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and the ISL teams. They need to be more professional," he added.