Two new franchises have been added to the Indian Super League — Tata-owned Jamshedpur and JSW-owned Bangalore — taking the total number of teams in the five-month competition to 10. It’s a coup of sorts for the ISL. But for Bengaluru FC, their successful bid to join the tournament might well be a headache — at least in the short run.
IMG-Reliance (IMGR) officially announced Bengaluru as one of the two new sides on Monday. Steel giants Tata were awarded the Jamshedpur franchise. But Bengaluru are now faced with a quandary. Chief coach Albert Roca is the only certain figure to remain in the Bengaluru dugout as the club will be forced to release their entire squad and rebuild from scratch, in accordance with ISL rules. The entire process might leave them with very little time to prepare for the AFC Cup inter-zonal semifinal against North Korean giants April 25 Sports Club.
Currently, Bengaluru have some of the biggest Indian names on their roster, including national captain Sunil Chhetri, midfielders Eugeneson Lyngdoh and CK Vineeth, defender Sandesh Jhingan and goalkeeper Amrinder Singh. However, Bengaluru will be forced to release all of them and build a new team via the draft or auction that the ISL is likely to conduct for Indian players. Even their foreign players will need to be approved by the Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), the body that governs the ISL.
Bengaluru FC chief technical officer Mandar Tamhane said the deadline for them to submit the names of Indian players as well as the four foreigners for the AFC Cup knockout round match is July-end. The first leg will be played in Bengaluru on August 23 with the return leg scheduled in Pyongyang on September 13. “We have to submit the names to AFC by end of July. With that in mind, we hope that AIFF and FSDL will conduct the auction or draft, whatever they have planned, prior to this,” Tamhane said.
With expansion in their mind, the FSDL had told all ISL franchises last year to sign their players for the 2016 edition on one-season contracts. This was done to ensure a level playing field for the 2017 season and to make the auction/draft process smooth. According to Tamhane, Bengaluru still have 11 players contracted to them. However, it is not clear whether they will be allowed to retain any.
Bengaluru FC has won a title in each of the four years of its existence and reached the final of the AFC Cup last year. Their ability to retain the core group is seen as one of their strengths and the shuffling of squads will put Bengaluru at a disadvantage, Tamhane said. “As a club, we take pride in the fact that we have retained 75 per cent of our squad in the last four years. That’s the reason we have won a trophy every year. To let go of that is a big disadvantage,” Tamhane said. “Having said that, we are prepared to form a new team. We have done that in the past. There are certain league rules to follow and we will accept them.”