The much-hyped meeting between the All India Football Federation (AIFF), IMG-Reliance and I-League club officials in Mumbai on Friday yielded nothing concrete as Praful Patel once again reiterated that India will have one proper league in two to three years.
A working committee comprising I-League club officials, IMG-R and AIFF will be formed to work out the modalities of the merger but no deadline has been set to achieve the target. While all parties seem to be on the same page with regards to the merger, IMG-R’s position is still not clear. A senior official present at the meeting said the ball was in IMG-R’s court to decide on the merger as it would directly impact their business model and ISL as a brand.
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But Patel insisted ISL was not the official league of the country. “I-League is the only league recognised by the AIFF. ISL is only a tournament. It’s like a Rovers Cup or a Durand Cup. It’s not a league recognized by AIFF, AFC and FIFA,” Patel said after the meeting that lasted for close to two hours.
The meeting was attended by top Reliance officials, including Reliance executive director Nikhil Meswani, Srinivasan R, who represented the chairman’s office and ISL’s interim CEO Devang Bhimjyani. Significantly, Pune FC and Bharat FC had sent their representatives for the meeting amidst speculations that they will shut shop imminently.
The only I-League club that didn’t attend the meeting was Royal Wahingdoh.
Patel said both I-League and ISL clubs wanted their leagues to be of longer duration, which wasn’t possible. “Eventually, we have to try to bring two leagues in one common format. We will have a working group. Some representation from I-League, IMG-R and AIFF. We will first try to improve the leagues and then try to integrate them. Then we will invite two three ISL clubs in the sub group. There is no time frame but in a reasonable time, maybe in two three seasons,” Patel said.
Despite being keen to form one league, none of the stakeholders seem to have an idea as to how to go about the merger. The AIFF has been insisting on it for quite some time but its commercial partners have not publicly said they would accept a compromise solution. “Hence there is no time frame. Even though it’s made out to be that everyone is on the same page, they are not. The AIFF looked unprepared for today’s meeting regarding the merger issue which anyway looks unlikely for foreseeable future under present circumstances,” a official said.
Meanwhile, Patel said Mumbai’s Andheri Sports Complex will host India’s 2018 World Cup qualifier against Turkmenistan in March if the venue is refurbished on time. Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is the current host.
Meanwhile, chief coach Stephen Constantine trimmed the squad for the Iran match to 23, surprisingly including midfielder Romeo James and Rowllin Borges. Goalkeeper Karanjit Singh, who played second half against Nepal last Monday, has been replaced by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
Squad: Goalkeepers: Subrata Paul, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Arindam Bhattacharya; Defenders: Dhanapal Ganesh, Arnab Mondal, Sandesh Jhingan, Aiborlang Khongjee, Dhanachandra Singh, Narayan Das, Rino Anto, Pritam Kotal; Midfielders: Eugenson Lyngdoh, Cavin Lobo, Sehnaj Singh, Jackichand Singh, Pronoy Halder, Francis Fernandes, CK Vineeth, Rowlin Borges, Romeo Fernandes; Forwards: Jeje Lalpekhlua, Robin Singh, Sunil Chhetri.