Just over a month before it kicks off, the Indian Super League (ISL) has run into trouble. It has emerged that the owners of the Bangalore franchise, Sun Group, are considering pulling out from the tournament. The uncertainty over their participation surfaced after the organisers, IMG-Reliance, reportedly rejected the collaboration between Sun Group and Bangalore FC owners JSW Sports, for the franchise. It is learnt that a senior ISL official has communicated the decision to Sun Group, owned by Kalanithi Maran, last week.
Consequently, Sun Group has reportedly told the organisers that they will not be in a position to be a part of the tournament as JSW was taking care of the technical aspects of the team, including the appointment of the manager as well as the marquee player.
Last season, the JSW-owned Bangalore FC took the Indian football scene by storm, winning the I-League in their very first year of existence. Sun and JSW Sports had made their tie-up official during the domestic player draft that took place last month. In fact, JSW were close to picking up a 25 per cent stake in the Bangalore franchise, named Bangalore Titans, and the share was supposed to go up to 50 per cent in the second year.
All India Football Federation president Praful Patel was closely involved in getting JSW Sports on board after their initial reluctance. However, the deal has not been approved by the ISL board. The reason for rejecting the tie-up isn’t known.
Sun Group’s chief information officer, Ananth Nagarajan, told this paper that they would “wait for a couple of days more before making an official statement.” Asked if they would continue to be a part of the ISL, Nagarajan said: “I cannot speculate on that at the moment.” IMG-R officials remained unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts to reach them.
Sources said the fate of the Bangalore franchise will be known this week. “Top officials from all parties involved are trying to work out a solution. It would have a big impact on the tournament if a team pulls out at this stage, so everyone is hoping for a diplomatic solution to this hiccup,” the source said.
Recruitment on hold
It is learnt that Sun and JSW have put their player and coach recruitment on hold until the issue has been resolved. The team had finalised former Wigan Athletic coach Paul Jewell as their manager and were closing in on signing a marquee player too. However, those negotiations have since been put on the back-burner.
Interestingly, IMG-R have approved the mergers involving two other I-League clubs, Dempo and Shillong Lajong, who are co-owners of Goa and Guwahati franchisees. The organisers also gave their permission to Pune City FC’s technical tie-up with the I-League club from the city, Pune FC. However, according to sources, that merger too is under a cloud.
Bangalore had picked up some of the top Indian players in the domestic draft, including defender Gouramangi Singh and striker Jeje Lalpekhlua, among others.