Praful Patel: 'ISL, I-League won't merge this year'

AIFF president Praful Patel brushed aside any possibilities of an unified League any time in the near future. "I have my doubts and frankly, I don’t see any merger happening at least this year. Also, I don’t see any reason for a conflict and I cannot understand why it is constantly being touted as ‘I-League merging with ISL’? Why can we not say that the ISL might merge with the I-League?" Patel said.

Patel insisted that with the proposed roadmap only that and nothing concrete, it was simply an excuse for the clubs to wash their hands off.   -  PTI

Indian football circles may be awash with talks of a unified National league, and rumours of the I-League dying out after a merger with the Indian Super League (ISL), but AIFF president Praful Patel has brushed aside any possibilities of the same in the near future.

“I have my doubts and frankly, I don’t see any merger happening at least this year. Also, I don’t see any reason for a conflict and I cannot understand why it is constantly being touted as ‘I-League merging with ISL’? Why can we not say that the ISL might merge with the I-League? The name is not important. I-League is I-League, you have to have a National league and we have one,” he said on the sidelines of launching the Indian Women’s League here on Tuesday.

Critical of clubs

At the same time, Patel was critical of the traditional football clubs, slamming them for resisting change and refusing to invest in the sport. Holding up Bengaluru FC as an example, Patel said the club should been a role model for the rest, instead they were blaming everyone but themselves for slipping in popularity.

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“One of the reasons why a team like Bengaluru was brought into the I-League was with the expectation that the footballing culture in our country would change. The traditional mindset we have, we do not professionalise to get the best out of our teams. I don’t want to blame anybody but people have to invest. If we do that, the returns would be visible — there will be good games, more spectators, a value and a brand created for the teams.

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“For the ISL final in Kochi, there was a sea of yellow supporting Kerala Blasters. There is passion for the game, people want to see a good a contest. I would urge all teams to follow the module. I am definitely not satisfied with the way others, the traditional clubs are continuing but I wish they would change,” Patel said.

Just an excuse

While three prominent Goan clubs — Salgaocar SC, Dempo SC and Sporting Clube de Goa — had united to oppose the proposed restructuring and ‘merger’ and withdrawn from the I-League, there is no representation from Kerala and Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have struggled in recent years. But Patel insisted that with the proposed roadmap only that and nothing concrete, it was simply an excuse for the clubs to wash their hands off.

“Many new clubs are coming in also. The clubs which have pulled out were not investing in football. They blame other factors but the real reason is that they don’t have any bandwidth now to continue,” he said.

Meanwhile, talking about the upcoming FIFA Under-17 World Cup, Patel was realistic. “I am not saying we should win the title. I only hope they make us proud and that the country’s performance should be visible and recognised. We have given them a free hand and full support,” he said.

Optimistic

With the next big target for the National team being the Asian Cup qualifiers, Patel said he was optimistic. “I am hopeful but, at the same time, fingers crossed. Our ranking has been improving, no one can say we came from 175 to 129 without any effort but that doesn’t make us happy, we should get better.

“We will invest in the future of Indian football, the youth and the women aggressively. We have a good coach but we are open to getting more personnel in. At the moment, though, all the focus for the next three months should only be on the qualifiers.”