Subrata Dutta: It's survival of the fittest in the I-League

"It’s unfortunate that Royal Wahingdoh have decided to pull out. But football in India is still not fully commercialised and you can’t expect to get rich returns from it. I-League is the premier tournament in the country and only a few can survive there – traditional big clubs (East Bengal, Mohun Bagan) and clubs backed by large corporates (Bengaluru FC)," Dutta said.

Subrata Dutta (third from left) termed Shillong-based Royal Wahingdoh’s decision to withdraw from the 2015-16 I-League as unfortunate, but is not perturbed by it.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

All India Football Federation Vice President Subrata Dutta termed Shillong-based Royal Wahingdoh’s decision to withdraw from the 2015-16 I-League as unfortunate, but is not perturbed by it.

“It’s unfortunate that Royal Wahingdoh have decided to pull out. But football in India is still not fully commercialised and you can’t expect to get rich returns from it. I-League is the premier tournament in the country and only a few can survive there – traditional big clubs (East Bengal, Mohun Bagan) and clubs backed by large corporates (Bengaluru FC). It’s the survival of the fittest,” Dutta told Sportstar. “I-League clubs need a budget of Rs. 10 to Rs. 15 crore per season. And it’s not easy for a club to manage that.”

Dutta ruled out any effort from the AIFF’s side to cajole the Royal’s to reverse their decision. “That’s out of question, since they have already made their position clear to the media. You can’t make an unwilling horse to run,” he said. “But, if they had any problems with the system, they should have stayed in it and tried to make it better. You can’t make a difference from the outside.”

He emphasised the importance of the I-League in the national football structure. “It is and will be the No. 1 club tournament in India. Players from the Indian team are picked on the basis of their performance in the I-League. I-League clubs play in Asian competitions,” he said. “It will be a nine-team affair for the coming season. We may introduce games at neutral venues apart from the regular home-and-away format to increase the number of matches. There can also be a play-off between the top four and bottom five teams to pick the winner and decide on relegation. We will meet on November 25 and deliberate on all this.”

Reiterating the need for the merger of the Indian Super League and the I-League, Dutta said: “The two Leagues need to be merged over the next couple of years. Even the ISL clubs are bleeding, despite all the glamour and sponsorship. Indian football needed a big bang moment and the ISL provided it. But, we need one strong League to take football forward in the country.”