With the All India Football Federation coming under a lot of criticism after yet another club pulled out of the I-League — Dempo FC announcing on Thursday its decision to join Salgaocar FC and Sporting Club de Goa’s boycott — I caught up with AIFF Vice-President Subrata Dutta for a quick chat on the proposed league merger and the club pull-outs.
Question: You had an emergency meeting yesterday. Can you share with us the gist of what happened in the meeting?
Answer: We have included Churchill Brothers in the I-League as per the High Court’s directive. The club will give an undertaking to us saying it will abide by the AFC licensing criteria.
Does the timing of the decision have anything to do with other Goan clubs pulling out?
Not really. The court said to us that we should also consider Churchill’s contribution to Indian and Goan football. Also their impressive past track-record. We considered all that, and you know that other Goan clubs have pulled out and so we decided there should be some representation from the State.
Has any decision been taken on the fate of Barthez Goa which has bid for a place in upcoming season?
A decision on new teams will be taken during a meeting on December 11.
What do you think has gone wrong for Goan football? In an interview, I-League CEO Sunanda Dhar said the stadium turn-outs have reduced drastically…
It is true that that there is a huge depletion in the popularity of football in Goa. One of the reason could be that there were too many clubs in the I-League from Goa. So the fan base got divided. Also, these Goan clubs belong to individual promoters or families. Nowadays the money required to compete in a professional league is too high.
Earlier, what used to be below Rs. 10 crore is now well above Rs. 16 crore. No football clubs, either in the Indian Super League or I-League, have a revenue model to recoup this money. How long, for how many years, can they (Goan football club owners) go on spending crores and crores of rupees without knowing that you are not going to get any money out if it? There is no such road-map for the future. So the clubs are leaving due to financial reasons as well.
Why are the clubs struggling financially?
That is because commercialisation of football has not happened in India. From the club level to the federation level. And that will take some time because we need better quality games, better quality stadiums, better match experience… Which depends on better grassroots football development. So all these will take some time. We should not forget that Indian football, as we now know it, is just about 10 years old. Prior to 2006, AIFF didn’t even have its own office. The office moved with the secretary. And it was there in the bed-side cupboard of the secretary. Now we have a proper football house. We have professionals working there. So we are heading in the right path but it will definitely take some time.
One of the problems raised by the Goan clubs is that there is no promotion for I-League teams to ISL in the proposed league…
We haven’t given a guarantee to any team. We haven’t take any decision on the new league also. We are taking suggestions from everybody. It’s not at all an easy task. It’s very easy to say restructuring of the league but very difficult to actually do it. The decision is going to take some time but the sooner it happens the better it is for Indian football.
We know the problem. We know what we should arrive at. But how to go about it? How to implement it? That we are still figuring out. Everybody is saying demonetisation is good. But the way it is being implemented is being criticised.
Have you spoken to these Goan clubs?
We have had a lot of conversations with them. Why have East Bengal and Mohun Bagan stayed back? They have also not been promised a place in the restructured league. None of the clubs have been promised anything. But they know that they have been contributing to Indian football since a very long time. They are being patient and are waiting for a solution. And that solution has to come from everybody. We cannot leave a part of football fraternity out of this decision. Every stakeholder in Indian football should be consulted.
Did the Goan clubs say anything about coming back?
The can always come back. We invite bids every year and they can, maybe, play the second division and be the champion there. Dempo won it last year.
Do you think it is fair that ISL teams have no relegation?
That is because they invested so much of money with a plan. And the plan is long-term. If they get relegated and go out of the League, then how can they fulfill the plan?
So if a Bengaluru FC is willing to put in the same money can it also be relegation free?
The top-league will have no relegation because there is an agreement with the teams and IMG-Reliance.
But then teams in 2nd division will struggle to raise the revenues required…
Why are you assuming this? We have not made a plan. That (the proposed league) was one of the suggestions. But nobody has approved this.
I’ll tell you an important point. See, for a league to be successful it should have teams named after cities or States. Especially if they are not based out traditional football loving regions like Kolkata. Also, if there are too many teams from the same region, the fan base gets divided. That is also not ideal in the present scenario.
Too many teams will increase the number of matches and the expenses, which again means less revenue for the clubs. That would delay the break-even further as the central revenue would be split. The ideal number would be around 10 teams. Now the question is, how can we accommodate so many teams? ISL has eight and I-League has 9-10. Hence, the new league has to be an ideal league. And for that many clubs will have to sacrifice. You just can’t help it.
So what will happen to a city like Kolkata? There is Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) which will stay. Then there is Mohun Bagan and East Bengal…
The fan-base that ATK has is mostly East Bengal, Mohammaden Sporting and Mohun Bagan fans. So if these clubs play then ATK will not have any fans. For ATK to build fans, it will take time. It will have to keep winning and then people might slowly support. That’s why you must have heard rumours about one of these clubs getting merged with ATK. Which again is very easy to say but very difficult to implement. Why should ATK accept either of these two clubs? Why would these clubs want to lose their independence and control? So to make a marriage happen will be quite difficult.
In that sense, will you be looking to encourage clubs from States that are not represented? Like Chennai?
Yeah, that’s why in the new I-League, we have applications from places like Chennai (Chennai City FC), Punjab (Minerva FC), Delhi (Sudeva FC) and Imphal (Neroca FC). These regions are not represented in the League.