When the I-League was launched with a lot of glitz and glamour six seasons ago,it was an all-Goan affair as Dempo and Salgaocar started proceedings. It was seen as the beginning of a new era in Indian football. But as fate would have it,the same teams will face each other this weekend in what is likely to be the last match of the league in its current avatar.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is toying with the idea of changing the format of the I-League next season,bringing it in line with USA’s Major League Soccer (MLS). One can understand why the AIFF feels it’s necessary to experiment with the format yet again.
The AIFF relaunched the national competition in 2007 to make the league pan-Indian,spectator friendly and professional. But the fact that many within the fraternity still believe that the erstwhile National Football League (NFL) was a robust and more competitive tournament shows the extent to which I-League has failed in achieving what it ought to have.
Like in 1996,when the first season of NFL was held,I League matches are still held in afternoons in front of little or no crowd. The quality of the games remains the same. While change might be around the corner,the bickering between the AIFF and its commercial partners IMG-R will only make things protracted.
The clubs and the players too cannot escape the blame. There’s no doubt that Goa has earned the right to be called the country’s football hub but it could not have been possible without the other states,particularly Kolkata,slipping up.
The clubs from the East have scripted their own downfall,thanks to shoddy management coupled with extreme short-sightedness. Kolkata football is ripe with stories of clubs dishonouring players’ contracts and officials clinging on to the posts for personal benefits. There is also the view that players,taking home fat pay cheques,do little on the field to justify their price tag.
The AIFF has acknowledged the shortcomings and has shown some pro-activeness in recent times to initiate changes. No one knows whether the latest version of the I-League will work. But it’s at least a step in the right direction.
(Mihir is a senior correspondent based in Mumbai)