“This could be the last edition of the I-league. It is looking that way and unless something happens in the intervening months, we are looking at the last edition of the I-league,” I-legaue CEO Sunando Dhar told The Navhind Times on the side lines of the Elite Youth (U-18) League final at Don Bosco ground on Saturday.
The I-league started as the successor to the National Football League (NFL) in 2007 and seven clubs have won the title since its inception. Goa’s Dempo Sports Club is the only club in India to have won the I-league three times. Goa’s Churchill Brothers FC has won the I-league twice along with Bengaluru FC and is in contention for the third title in the final year of the league. Salgaocar FC from Goa, Mohun Bagan, Aizawl FC and Minerva Punjab are the other teams to have won the championship.
“Ideally, a league has to be based on the principle of promotion and relegation. I do not think the new league will be based on this principle because of the contractual obligations in the Indian Super League (ISL),” said Sunando when asked whether the new revamped league will be based on promotion and relegation.
“Relegation and promotion may not be possible initially. But, the system should fall in place after some years. The idea is to get a new system in place first and to tweak it later,” explained Sunando.
It may be recalled that Salgaocar FC, Sporting Clube de Goa and Dempo Sports Club opted out of the I-League in 2016 after the indecision on the part of All India football Federation (AIFF) on how the ISL would be amalgamated with the I-League. The ISL , it may be noted here, started as a tournament in 2014 and the eight original franchisees were exempted from relegation. Two more franchisees- Bengaluru FC from the I-League and Jamshedpur FC were inducted in 2017.
The issue of legacy clubs being kept out of the I-league was discussed after the visit of FIFA President Giannio Infantino in 2016 and the matter of restructuring India’s league was left to Asian Football Council (AFC) and AIFF.
As per the roadmap drawn during meetings between AFC and AIFF, India is expected to have a new league format from the 2020 season. Teams from the I-League are expected to join the ISL but the number is still not clear although there are indications that Mohun Bagan and East Bengal could be two possible teams from Kolkata because of the huge fan following enjoyed by these two clubs.
“The different age groups tournaments that have been started since the last few years and played by teams from the I-League and ISL will continue next year. The talent seen on these tournaments has been amazing and the interest amongst all the teams has been tremendous. There will be no different set of age group tournaments,” conceded Sunando.
The Elite Youth League was won by I-league club Minerva Punjab FC who defeated ISL Club FC Pune City.