Kolkata: Conflict and confusion seems to hovering over Indian domestic football at present with top clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan refusing to submit their bid for participation in the Indian Super League (ISL). Among other grievances, one of their main demands is that the franchise fee, of ₹15 crore be waived and former Indian footballer Bhaichung Bhutia thinks that not only them, but all the franchise fee for all the I-League clubs should be waived in case of a merger between the ISL and the India’s ‘official’ club football competition.
“The franchise fee should be waived for East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and all other I-League clubs for taking part in the ISL. East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are playing soccer for more than a century. Dempo Sports Club has been there for 50 years. Churchill Brothers are also there for long. There players should not be expected to play such high fees like the corporate clubs” said the former Indian international at a press conference at the Calcutta Sports Journalist’s Club on Sunday.
The former India captain is also of the opinion that it is unfair for both these clubs to say that they wouldn’t allow simultaneous leagues to happen. He rather suggested that they should hold back their players and not release them to play in the ISL, something which Bengaluru FC had done way back in the 2014- the year ISL started.
“Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are unfair in saying no to simultaneous leagues. If they are against it, they should hold back their players and not let them play in the ISL” said Bhaichung.
Talking of the ISL-I League merger, Bhaichung was happy with the idea of a single competition where 20 teams would compete in a seven month long tournament. He also looked at things from a player’s perspective saying that a 20 team merged tournament would allow players to compete at the highest level.
“We are looking at the perspective of players, to see that lots of players get opportunities. From a player’s point of view, if we have 20 teams after merging, then we are more than happy” said the former striker.
“We want to see maximum number of players playing. The opportunity for players, who are playing at the highest level for a longer period of time, is going to be more and that is what we want” he further added.
He also said that in case a merger doesn’t happen, both these leagues should run simultaneously, as in the present scenario, one league takes 3-4 months to complete and the players are thus left unemployed for the remainder of the year.
“If both tournaments run simultaneously, then more number of players will get an opportunity to play in top tournaments. So unemployment among Indian footballers will go down. This will greatly benefit the footballer, as in this sport players’ time span is very short, around 15 years.”
He also believed that this would increase the pool of Indian footballers, something which would benefit Indian football. “And the country will also stand to gain, as it will get a bigger pool of players” he added.
He also said that making the ISL a seven month long affair would be beneficial for the players but would be a gamble which should be taken.
“Making ISL a 7 month affair is a gamble they have to take. There are challenges but it will be beneficial for Indian football. Players will take contracts seriously if they are longer” he said.
He also spoke about the idea of a ‘Super Cup’ where both ISL and I-League teams could send their teams for participation in the AFC tournaments.
At present, the Federation Cup winners play in the AFC cup while the I-League champions take part in the AFC Champions League play-offs.
The former star Indian footballer was of the idea that ISL clubs could be given an opportunity to qualify for the AFC cup by playing in a knockout competition named the, ‘Super Cup.’
“The top four teams from I-League and top four teams from ISL directly go into the Super Cup. The next four teams in each league can have a play-off from which four can be shortlisted for the Super Cup. Then the Super Cup is played in a knockout format and the winner can take the AFC slot” he suggested.
“At the moment we have the Federation Cup, but it can be replaced by the Super Cup so ISL teams can also qualify for AFC competitions” said Bhutia.
Further, he believed that making players an asset would be beneficial for the future of Indian football, and that Mohun Bagan and East Bengal cannot complain of losing players to ISL clubs as they themselves have signed top players from different clubs in the past. Instead the legend believes that they need to be more organized.
“Instead, they will have to get organised and invest in youth development. With the right approach, clubs can make a lot of money from selling players” he advised.
Bhaichung, who is currently an advisor to the AIFF, also put forward a survey conducted on players were maximum pitched for the idea of playing a long season with one club. He said that he would present this survey in the all-important meeting of the stakeholders in the AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on the June 7.
Former Indian midfielder and currently the president of the Football Player’s Association of India Rennedy Singh who was also present at the conference said he would put forward a proposal of having a minimum salary on behalf of the FPAI at the meeting.