Mumbai Tigers wasted no time in making bold predictions soon after their inception last year qualifying for the I-League,winning the coveted crown and,subsequently,qualifying for Asia.
And thanks to their cash-rich Dubai-based owners,a squad comprising players of good repute,and a highly experienced coach in Bimal Ghosh,these targets didnt seem out of reach.
However,it now seems Mumbai Tigers will have to dig deep into their cash reserves just to earn a place in the top flight of Indian football. A 3-1 defeat to Langsning FC in their penultimate I-League Division Two tie in Bangalore on Wednesday ended their hopes of earning promotion. Pre-tournament favourites Tigers are placed fifth in the six-team final phase,having lost six and won just three of their nine games. With 17 points in eight games,Mohammedan Sporting are a win away from qualifying for the I-League. Meghalaya-based Rangdajied United (16 points in 9 matches) and Bhawanipore FC (13 points in 8 matches) will fight it out for the final promotion spot.
The second division final phase is considered to be one of the toughest competitions in domestic football,with some even ranking it above the I-League,and Mumbai Tigers experienced this first-hand. Ghosh has vast experience of managing teams in the I-League and was in no illusions over the task that awaited his side going into the tournament.
Ghosh,who had formed a strong team comprising Indian players with solid reputations,said a spate of injuries to their key players was the prime reason for their downfall. We played close to 17 matches in a month and a half on artificial turf so it wasnt easy on the players. Coming into the final phase,eight of our first team players were out because of various injuries. We were virtually left with no players, Ghosh said.
Of course,all doors are still not shut on Tigers. With the conventional route of qualifying for the top division now out of question,they will have to invest a significant part of their budget to make sure they are a part of I-League next season. Tigers owners Dodsal Group are now likely to bid for one of the two corporate franchise teams that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is hoping to introduce.
Apart from the actual bid amount,which is expected to run into several crores,the new teams that will be inducted into the league next season have to build a new stadium and also pay AIFF an annual fee of Rs 3 crore. In addition,they will have to furnish a bank guarantee of Rs 15 crore along with a corporate guarantee. In return,they will get immunity from relegation for three years.
Ghosh said Tigers are likely to bid for direct entry into the I-League. The manner in which the owners run the team is very different from other clubs – be it the facilities provided to players or the way they treat them. So it is important for us to be a part of the I-League, he said.