‘I-League was not successful and that's why ISL came’
Former captain and current advisor to All India Football Federation, Bhaichung Bhutia has admitted that the eight-year old I-League has been a failure and feels that the ‘successful’ Indian Super League should be given a few more seasons before a possible merger of the two.
Bhutia, Indian football's poster boy for a long time before his retirement in 2011 after playing more than 100 international matches, said I-League failed to attract the crowd and the media, while the two season old ISL could do just that.
"Let's be honest, I-League was not successful and that's why ISL came. Football fans were not coming to watch I-League matches, the media do not want to cover them (I-League matches)," Bhutia said at an event organised by Confederation of Indian Industries in New Delhi.
"Had I-League been successful, the ISL would not have been there. I-League failed and that's why ISL was started and we have seen that it (ISL) has been a success so far," he said at the CII Soccer Fest Star Night when asked about the talk in the official circles of the possible merger between the two leagues in the near future.
Bhutia, who is also the current chairman of the AIFF Technical Committee besides being an advisor, does not see any immediate merger of the ISL and I-League.
"I would want to have ISL. Next year, I feel that ISL should have six Indians, instead of the five currently. In another two or three years, the number of foreigners should be reduced to four which is the current rule in the I-League. Only then we can think of a merger between the two leagues," said Bhutia who was inducted into Asian Football Hall of Fame last year for his contribution to the game.
That I-League, launched in 2007 to professionalise Indian football by replacing National Football League, has been a failure is an open secret but nobody from the AIFF nor the players -- former and current -- has said it in public. It took a Bhutia, arguably the most popular Indian footballer ever, to say that in the open.
The 2015-16 season of the I-League, beginning January 9, will be severely curtailed with just nine clubs taking part. Three clubs -- Pune FC, Bharat FC and Royal Wahingdoh -- recently pulled out of the I-League due to financial woes of running their first teams.