Kolkata: The biggest challenge for Indian football is to get a structure in place, and for that to happen, all stakeholders need to shun their ‘egos’ and work together in a ‘give and take’ manner for the betterment of the sport, feels former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia.
The I-League clubs on Wednesday were told by All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel that he will request the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to allow the I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL) to continue simultaneously for the next three years.
Patel said that a three-year window will give the AIFF enough time to plan a roadmap as the two leagues running simultaneously was not the option for the long haul.
The longstanding feud between the I-League clubs and the AIFF took an ugly turn after reports were out that AIFF was obliged to make ISL the top league from this season under the Master Rights Agreement (MRA) signed in 2010 between the federation and its marketing partners.
“The biggest challenge right now would be to keep egos down. It has to be give and take. Everything can”t be the way you want for I-League, ISL and the federation. So there has to be sacrifice from all parties,” Bhutia told on the sidelines of Football Players” Association of India”s (FPAI) puja ceremony at its plush new office here.
“That”s how the structure is going to be set. The biggest challenge for Indian football right now is to get the structure right. Now to get that right, all parties need to give and take,” said the iconic footballer.
“This has to be priority because everybody right now is looking at ”my own club to survive my own league to do well my own federation”. So I think the interest has to come for the betterment of Indian football, there are challenges on all the parts, all the parties, but try and get the best solution out of it.
“I think it”s important to sit and discuss. I think the federation has put in a lot of initiative because we had FIFA delegates come and study the entire structure. The AFC came too. I think the suggestions have come forward. I was there as an advisor that time,” he elaborated, stopping short of saying whether he knows anything about the report and why it is not being shared with the clubs.
Bhutia stressed that the presence of traditional heavyweights — East Bengal and Mohun Bagan — will add more prestige to the top league of the country.
“The top league will definitely benefit with East Bengal and Mohun Bagan coming in into it. These are the clubs that bring in history and fans to the stadium. So East Bengal and Mohun Bagan should be in the top league,” he said.
Asked about the future of I-League if the two Kolkata giants should join the ISL bandwagon, Buutia reiterated that relegation and promotion is of great importance and names do not matter.
“You can have a premier league, then first division and second division. The names then can”t be changed. I-League over the years has had many names. What we need is a top league with some of the best teams. We also need to have a good structure and fulfil all the criteria,” he said.
Bhutia said when he was the advisor to AIFF, he had given these suggestions, which, besides having relegation and promotion, should also see to it that the top league has more teams than just 10.
“There were a lot of suggestions I had given. I think there should be relegation and promotion in each and every league, be it ISL or I-League. The number of teams in the top league should increase beyond 10. I personally had a meeting with the FIFA team as well,” Bhutia said.
The 47-year old also spoke about the Indian national team, saying new coach Igor Stimac”s goal should be to bring the team inside top 50 in FIFA rankings. India are currently ranked 101.
Bhutia also shared his opinion on the Joby Justin transfer saga from East Bengal to ATK with the player seeking AIFF”s help to resurrect his personal and professional life.
“It is unfortunate and it does not give a good image and publicity to the game. I”m not trying to say which party is right or wrong. But I think it”s important for all the parties to be fair. That”s the reason why the football players association is here. The players need to consult the association if they don”t have an agent, or make sure that they get support from the players association through the legal side in the context of their signing,” Bhutia said.
Joby has claimed from the very beginning that he had agreed to join ATK but the I-League runners-up have maintained that the player had signed a pre-contract with the East Bengal for two more years.
“If they can give a copy of the contract to the players association, it will be very helpful,” he signed off.
On the contract row, FPAI General Manager Cyrus Confectioner said: “He (Joby) has a contract with ATK which is a legal document but what East Bengal are claiming is a letter of consent which does not hold good.”