‘Should the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League be merged?’ that is the question which has along which Indian football aficionados have been divided along two lines, into two separate battle camps – one in favour of the age old I-league, the other in favour of the more recent, cash-rich ISL – but both comfortably confident that theirs is the correct opinion.
But there’s a third side, one which isn’t as vocal as the others, but which believes that combining the salient features of both leagues into one grand league without the drawbacks of either would be the best solution. A side which believes that working together instead of spewing vitriol at each other is the smart choice.
The reason why numerous people are against the merger of the two leagues for now is because there are rumours that the new league formed will only include 3-4 clubs from the original I-League clubs, while retaining all of the ISL clubs. This sounds like a horrible idea, since it will effectively be shutting down numerous clubs from all over the country, each of them with a rich and varied history. There are talks of Atletico de Kolkata and East Bengal being merged into a single entity for this new league which will come into existence, while keeping a couple of clubs like Mohan Bagan and co from the I-League. This puts the rest of the clubs in a difficult position, as they will be placed in the second tier of Indian Football, for no fault of their own. Worse, it does not even make sense from the stand point of a proper league to shunt these clubs down because most proper leagues from the world over have at least 18 or 20 clubs in them, playing 36 to 38 games every year. Thus, there is no reason to turn away any of the teams from the current I-League roster. Indeed, even if all the teams of the current I-League roster are added to the current ISL roster, even then we fall short of the 20 teams which makes a top class league. Thus, it would be smarter just to add these teams to a single league instead of removing certain clubs and the like, which stinks of elitism and a disrespect for the clubs’ history and past achievements.
Beyond that, not adding clubs from the I-League to the merged league just because they may be unable to compete against the bigwigs on a financial level is a failed argument, proven by Leicester City’s run to the top of the English Premier League this year. It is also bad for the fans, many of whom have been invested in their local teams since generations, and relegating them to lower tiers of football is a bad move altogether.
Thus, a merged league makes sense if all the current clubs get to participate in it, and if it runs throughout the year and not just like an exhibition tournament, leading to grassroots level development and building of a footballing culture in India. Otherwise it’ll just be a sham, and we will continue to stagnate, or even regress.