Hope I-League-ISL merger happens soon: Neroca FC owner Naoba

Naoba lauded the Indian Super League (ISL) for bringing about an improvement in football infrastructure in the country.

The Imphal-based Neroca was established in 1965 and it has been one of the Manipur’s top side for decades, and has  won the state league many times.   -  Special Arrangement

Neroca FC owner Naoba Thangjam on Friday said that the I-League clubs should not be left out during any future revamp of the Indian domestic football, suggesting a single top-tier league of a minimum of 16 teams as the only way forward.

Naoba lauded the Indian Super League (ISL) for bringing about an improvement in football infrastructure in the country, but at the same time said that getting semi-retired foreign players to attract fans was not the right way to raise the standard of the game in the country.

“As a football fan and CEO of Neroca, I think there is no such a federation in the world, which is running two leagues (top tier) simultaneously. It is happening in Indian football and nowhere else. The two leagues are treated separately and differently by the same organisation,” Naoba said on Friday.

He is among the supporters of an I-League-ISL merger. “It is best if we have three tiers in our domestic league system. I hope the merger of I-League and ISL happens soon. We need to have a single top-tier league with more number of teams, may be 16 or 18, longer period of league with more matches, follow the AFC rule in terms of foreigners,” he elaborated.

Talking about the investments made by the ISL and I- League clubs, he said, “Everybody says ISL has been spending a lot of money but they have been doing that for the last 3-4 years only. They need to think about those clubs who have been spending for the last 50 years. If you summed it together they have also spent a lot of money. It is not only spending the amount but also spending in the right direction and right place. Getting semi-retired foreign players to come down to attract fans is not a good way to improve Indian football.”

He did admit that ISL had its share of positives too.

“Definitely, ISL has done some positive things like bringing improvement in infrastructure, increase in visibility of Indian football. That is all good, positive and it is well done ISL,” said the 31-year-old CEO of the club.

He also talked about the different application of foreign player rules in the I-League and ISL.

“ISL does not follow AFC rules in terms of number of foreign players in the squad and playing eleven. In ISL, five foreigners can play currently, earlier it was six. In the I-League, AFC rules says there can be only four foreigners in the playing eleven and out of the four, one will have to be an Asian. So there is disparity,” he expressed his concern.

The Imphal-based Neroca was established in 1965 and it has been one of the Manipur’s top side for decades, and has  won the state league many times.

It reached the final of the Durand Cup in 2016 and went on to win the second division I-League last season to qualify for the first division this year. It is the first Manipuri side to make it to the I-League and fifth from Northeast India.

The club is promoted by Classic Group, a chain of top- class hotels in the state. In its first season in the I-League, Neroca is currently in the second spot in the league table with 21 points from 11 matches.

It lost to Shillong Lajong 1-2 on January 24 but can occupy the top spot if it beats current leader Minerva Punjab on Saturday. Naoba said that too much travelling and back-to-back matches have taken its toll on his players.

“My players are fatigued because of too much travelling and back to back matches though I don’t want to make it as an excuse for our loss to Shillong Lajong. The Shillong Lajong match here was earlier scheduled for January 23 but I had to request the AIFF to postpone it by one day.”

While concluding, Naoba gave a peek into his team’s choc-a-bloc schedule. “We played Aizawl FC in Aizawl on January 20 and my players had to stay January 21 night at Guwahati as there is no direct flight between Aizawl and Imphal. We landed in Imphal on January 22 and how can we play next day. So the match was postponed by one day,” he said.

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