Praful Patel: Legacy clubs were dying, ISL started in interest of Indian football

Backed by IMG-R (IMG Reliance), the AIFF started the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014. The federation has now recommended the AFC to consider ISL over the I-League for a spot in the AFC Champions League qualifiers.

AIFF president Praful Patel, Nita Ambani (founding chairperson, FSDL) and ISL co-owners at the launch of ISL in 2014.   -  PAUL NORONHA

The introduction of the franchise-based Indian Super League (ISL) was essential to give a fresh lease of life to Indian football, according to All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel.

Backed by IMG-R (IMG Reliance), the AIFF started ISL in 2014. The federation has now recommended the AFC to consider ISL over I-League for a spot in the AFC Champions League qualifiers.

Speaking to Sportstar on ISL's introduction, Patel said, "I-League clubs in between have not been able to bring in money. Even before the ISL came, JCT, Mahindra, Tatas ran away; traditional clubs like Dempo, Salgaocar went away. You couldn’t have an I-league with two clubs, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, who were lucky to have McDowell’s and Kingfisher.

"Therefore, to say the I-League was fine and there were no other reasons to have another league was not right. You had to expand your horizon and had to think a little big and then we had the IMG-R (IMG Reliance) Master Rights Agreement (MRA)."

He added, "This was done when Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi (former AIFF president) was around and this was done between the AIFF and Zee. I say with conviction what he did then was right because there was nobody around. He did it with a process, with a tender. But Zee, in three-four years, lost interest and was not paying us on time and had thrown up their hands.

"At that stage, we didn’t know what to do and fortunately, if you look at it, IMG-R came in, negotiated with Zee and took over the balance 10 years. For us, we thought Reliance is a bigger name and IMG also has international experience in sports. And what choice did we have; they were subsuming an existing agreement."

Elaborating on the importance of IMG-R's support in running Indian football, Patel said, "If IMG-R had just continued the same way, it would have been floundering. IMG-R are also losing money. Zee fled, and if things had continued the same way, IMG-R would have also left. They said let us start with the ISL and we didn’t have any option. Also, in the interest of Indian football, it was important to start something new. The legacy clubs anyway were dying."

Read the full interview here: Praful Patel looks for happy marriage between ISL and I-League