FC Pune City CEO: 'Nature of foreign players in ISL will change'

FC Pune City's CEO Gaurav Modwel talks about the restructuring of the Indian football leagues and its impact.

"The number of teams increasing means the number of matches will also considerably go up. By that simple logic, the league will go on till March at least," said FC Pune City's CEO Gaurav Modwel.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The much-discussed restructuring of Indian football leagues took a major step forward when representatives of Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League met in Kuala Lumpur recently.

With the details of the meeting still unclear, Sportstar spoke to ISL club FC Pune City's CEO Gaurav Modwel to understand his team's take on the recent furore in Indian football.

Excerpts:-

There are a lot of rumours about the proposed restructuring of the leagues. Do we know anything for certain? Will the new ISL be five months long?

It has not been announced officially but yes, I believe it will be five months long. What has been announced is that eight teams will become ten teams. I do know that ISL can't start prior to November because of the U-17 World Cup. And since the league will be going beyond the 25 of December (Christmas), there will be a short break of 10-15 days. This means the league will be elongated. The number of teams increasing means the number of matches will also considerably go up. By that simple logic, the league will go on till March at least.

On top of it we are keeping players beyond 31 of January (last day for the winter transfer window), which means they are here for the next season as well. What is the need to hurry the league then?

 

Will the extended ISL fail to attract foreign players?

The nature of foreign players will change. We will see a different kind of player. The motivation of the player will be different from the ones who came here. Those players who are older and thought they could come for three months and relax afterwards, will not come because they are going to be away from the family for a longer period. So you will get more players who are younger, hungrier and who are ready to relocate to India. Players who are looking at India as a market like players go to MLS (Major League Soccer). Slowly the nature of players will become like that. If not this year, then next year. Like how it used to be with the I-League, where a Ranti Martins or Dudu would come and ply their trade here and live in a house in Kolkata. I think that would be the drift now.

 

The AFC has a foreign player rule for playing in the Champions League and Cup. Currently ISL does not stick to that limit. Was anything regarding this discussed in the meeting?

I was not in the meeting but what I hear is that there was no discussion on the topic. These things will be decided in an ISL meet. But the direction should be to keep reducing the number of foreign players.

 

There were rumours that no team owner went for the meeting in Kuala Lumpur and it was just IMG-Reliance (All India Football Federation's commercial partner) speaking for the clubs. Is that true?

I won't say (it was just) the IMG-R. The authorities went. Unlike the I-League, where there is no one-representation, in ISL we are constantly in touch with the league. There is a governing council which takes in our (ISL clubs') views. Based on what we tell, there is a view formed which is then taken ahead. So put it correctly, we were represented through our league.

FC Pune City's CEO Gaurav Modwel says foreign players, like Dudu Omagbemi (in picture), would be relocating to India to take part in the ISL, which is expected to be five-months long.   -  M. VEDHAN

 

So there was a meeting between the clubs prior to showdown in Malayasia?

Not a collective meeting but we are going to have one soon now. But I'm 100% sure that all ISL clubs are in touch with the league authorities. It's always a very collaborative process in ISL. When it comes down to rules and regulations there could be debates but we are all heard and our views are taken.

 

What happens to players with long-term contracts in the I-League clubs after the restructuring?

To create a level-playing field, considering Bengaluru has long-term contracts with many players and Tata (which won the bid for a team in next ISL) has none, I think there will be a draft.

 

But nothing has been conveyed about it?

I am aware of the discussion but nothing officially has been announced.

 

If both leagues are held simultaneously, will you be concerned about the quality of the pitches since you'd be sharing the stadium with I-League teams?

We could possibly play on different days and share the responsibility of maintaining the pitch. For example, when we were playing at Balewadi, at a different time of the year there was a Bharat FC or a DSK playing there. We needed to split the maintenance cost between us. So we would come together and appoint an agency which maintains the playing field. So if the leagues are simultaneously played, I'm sure the matches can't happen on the same day so the schedule has to be drafted in such a way.

 

FC Pune City won the IFA shield recently beating the Mohun Bagan colts. The young team also won the Goa Super Cup. How important is it for a club to have a long term vision?

It was very important for us to improve football and be a true football club. It's exciting for us because we play in so many different leagues. We play all the national leagues for that matter – we play U-16, which won the Goa Super Cup, U-19, which won the IFA shield and the Indian Women's League, where our women held their ground against teams flooded with national team players and reached the semifinals. We just had one Indian national team player (Dalima Chhibber). All these give everyone related to the club a lot to cheer.

 

An ISL physio once told me he is afraid that the players will lose whatever they developed in terms of physical and mental conditioning once they move to I-League because the clubs don't offer the same facilities. Do you think that's a matter of concern?

We are trying to be professional and trying to incorporate, as much as possible, the best practices followed by other football clubs around the world. We do have a lot of commercial constraints and that way even teams from I-league have constraints. It's unfair to comment on the I-League because it all depends on the clubs and how they are funded. Everyone aspires to bring in facilities but it also depends on how much you could possibly invest. Each club, based on its financial prowess, tries to do its best for the players. Today, India needs all its football clubs because it is offering players a platform. What I'm against is when a club's interactions with its stakeholders isn't clean. When there is nepotism or non professional conduct... then I have problem with.

 

You recently announced a tie-up with Mizoram-based Chanmari FC. Are clubs taking the easy way out by looking at North East for footballers? Should they not be concerned about creating the same type of environment in other regions?

I can't build leagues. We have U-16 team, U-19 team, women's team, soccer schools... so I am doing everything within my capacity. And we are the only one who has a residential academy here. The reason why I am tying up with Chanmari is because the Mizoram league is a strong league where the kid will get to play 30 matches. That is the reason why I am going there. Also, for the Chanmari boys, this is a great opportunity because the moment they turn 18 there is a platform for them to move up. And it's not only Chanmari, we might have feeder clubs elsewhere as well in the future.

 

Who should be responsible for creating a football culture similar to Mizoram today? The football clubs or the football association?

Mizoram's state federation is very active. In 2002, the first Mizo player (Shylo Malsawmtluanga) played in the I-League. And then Jeje rose to prominence. Today, there are 58 players. So definitely the state federation is doing something good. It might take Rajasthan more time to produce footballers because the sport isn't part of their culture yet. But state associations have a major role, I believe. You might not see the same kind of success in some other regions of the country but every state has to become active and help promote the sport.