Olympics Begin In
Begin typing your search above and press return to search.


I-League: Struggling for existence in a rich neighborhood

I-League: Struggling for existence in a rich neighborhood

Sounak Mullick

Published: 5 March 2019 3:37 AM GMT
The I-League has started its operations in 2007, to inject professionalism in the Indian football system. With a hope to further India’s fortune in the International circuit, the league was given much importance within the hustle and bustle of a country obsessed with the game of cricket. After enjoying its existence for 10 years, the I-League is now being overshadowed by the glamorous franchise-based league which re-ignited Indian football in a more fashionable way, the kind which attracts eyeballs. Although football was confined to certain pockets, a fierce competition prevailed in the tournament, with Goa-based teams and the big three from Kolkata mainly hogging the limelight. Traditional teams like Dempo Sports Club, Salgaoncar FC, Churchill Brothers FC were booming along with big guns like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal on equal footing from the eastern side. Then came the age when
Bengaluru FC
became a revolution in Indian football. It was the first time that a team owned by a corporate body showed utmost professionalism, it was an answer to the traditional clubs. They managed to gain a massive fan following within a year. The West Block Blues won their maiden I-League in their first year in their first year itself. Bengaluru FC became a force to reckon with. Simultaneously, India’s situation in the continent and the in the International stage did not improve to a large extent. The AIFF joined hands with IMG-Reliance to kick-start a league (Indian Super League) which will aim at helping India make a strong foothold in Asian football.
Backed by corporate bodies, each of the teams made fancy signings which included Europeans and World Cuppers. The huge coverage from the media made it an instant hit, with football fanatics flocking to the stadiums on a regular basis. In amidst of all these developments, everyone started to neglect the I-League, which was actually responsible for nurturing local talents from the grassroots until the ISL came into existence. Goa was the hotbed of Indian football during the National Football League (NFL) and even in the first five years of the I-League. But, traditional clubs like Salgaoncar FC, a two-time league champion and Sporting Clube de Goa pulled out of the 2016-17 I-League season due to AIFF’s bias against the I-League.

It was the time when the ISL took the centre stage in Indian football.

Till the 2016 season, the I-League started after the Indian Super League concluded, which allowed the players to play in both the leagues. But the AIFF decided to run both the leagues simultaneously from the 2017-18 season, which was a major setback for the I-League. As a result, the cream of the players, which included foreigners as well as top Indian players and even second string players shifted to the ISL for lucrative deals offered to them. On the other hand, the I-League became a dull affair. Moreover, it was crippled, with the broadcasters allotted afternoon slots for I-League matches while the elite evening kick-offs were reserved for ISL matches.

In spite of these hurdles, the I-League managed to keep its excitement.

It was mainly due to the competitiveness of the tournament. For the records, we have had four different winners in the past four seasons. The most fascinating of them was Aizawl FC’s triumph in the 2016-17 edition. When everyone thought that the I-League was a competition which was confined to a few teams, the club from the North-East backed its energetic supporters created history by winning the I-League. Minerva Punjab FC also stunned everyone by repeating the same in the following year. Now, these clubs along with Kolkata’s big guns Mohun Bagan and East Bengal will have to spend a huge amount to enter the Indian Super League which might not be possible. Even though East Bengal is now aided by QUESS Corp. Ltd for financial assistance, other teams are not privileged enough. For example, Minerva Punjab FC, Aizawl FC and even NEROCA FC operate with lesser funds compared to the ISL clubs, which makes them impossible to migrate to the cash-rich league.
The most interesting fact is that when a young player impresses in the I-league, he is roped by any of the Indian Super League for the following season.
To pile on the misery, these players were hardly given a chance to display their skills in the matches and were largely kept in the bench as reserves. Some of them were even loaned to I-League clubs midway through the tournament, which just wastes the talent of the aspiring footballers. Sheikh Faiaz is an example of how ATK kept him in the sidelines for several months and was then loaned to I-League outfits, Mohun Bagan. Sheikh Faiaz

The I-League has, nonetheless, retained its excitement

This season, Chennai City FC is just a win away from clinching their maiden I-League title. If they manage to make it through, we are going to get five champions in five seasons! Once again, the final match day will decide the Champions, the battle is between Chennai City FC and Mohun Bagan. In the last season too, four teams were in contention for the I-League title on the final match day. Each of the fixtures kicked-off simultaneously at the same time, with Minerva Punjab FC emerging as the winners. Real Kashmir FC created history this season by becoming the first club from that region to qualify for the I-League, they have been phenomenal this season as a debutant.
Real Kashmir FC This has by far been an exciting league since its inception, the neck to neck competition makes this such a successful league. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most competitive leagues in Asia, but the Indian Super League has been the centre of attraction for the past few years. A possible merger can be a solution to the problem, but the fees required to pay to the parent body is too heavy for the I-League clubs. For the meantime, I-League can only hope to continue its struggle which it has done for so many years. At the end of the day, India will benefit if quality players are produced, be it from the I-League or the ISL, but the former should be given its due respect.
Next Story