Thursday, May 20, 2010
I-League expansion halted
Since the creation of the I-League in 2007 the Indian Professional Football League has expanded from 10 to 12 to now 14 teams in the ongoing season. And next season the I-League was set to grow to 16 teams to give the league a bigger and better spread across India.
This summers plan was to include two new cities Delhi and Bangalore, be it club sides or new franchises; but the All India Football Federation has decided to wait with the next round of expansions until the 2011/12 season.
And this has numerous reasons. The first one being that though there was said to be corporate interest to launch new clubs those interested thought that in the current climate it wasn't right to make the necessary investment which goes into forming a new team.
Then there is the issue of fulfilling the AFC Professional Club guidelines. Could new clubs fulfil those that the current clubs haven't been able to do in years. The current clubs now have until December 31, 2010 to fulfil the basic set of criteria, only if they will be able to do so one will have to see. Those who don't fulfil the criteria would not be part of the 2011/12 I-League and would be replaced by teams who comply with the guidelines or new teams will be inducted into the league.
In another development with Mahindra United shutting down at the end of the season they are set to be replaced in the I-League by the new Indian Under-21 side and they would play their home matches in New Delhi, while as planned two teams will be relegated and two teams would get promoted. The three candidates from the second Division who are fighting for the two promotion slots are ONGC from Mumbai, HAL from Bangalore and Goa's Vasco SC. If HAL get back into the top tier then the AIFF plans of having Delhi and Bangalore in the league will still happen, but not in the way hoped and planned by the federation.
Last years expansion of the league has brought in new cities which have been a real success - Pune and Shillong. But both clubs didn't get inducted into the league, they gained their I-League spots through promotion from the 2nd Division. Both Pune FC and Shillong Lajong FC have brought a breath of fresh air into the old club set-up and more such entities are needed to help in the development of Indian club football.
And the AIFF also needs to look into the 2nd Division and its format. It is only a year younger then the National Football League/I-League, but it has always been played more like a tournament then as a league. At least the final round with six to eight teams should be played on a home-&-away format or across two legs to make it more attractive and fitting to all stakeholders.