New Delhi, 25 July, 2019: India must introduce the promotion-relegation system with bigger pool of teams, said football icon Bhaichung Bhutia, hinting that merger of I League and ISL is the way forward.
Former captain Bhutia did not say it in as many words but it appeared he was not against the idea of merger to settle the controversy surrounding the Indian Super League and the I-League.
“I am not talking about merger. We need to have bigger number of teams with separate divisions, say 1st, 2nd and 3rd divisions, where we can have relegation and promotion system. This is what the format is all across the world and I think we need to get into that format soon,” Bhutia said.
He spoke on the sidelines of a knowledge session on ‘Intergrity in Sports’ organised by the All India Gaming Federation and industry body, FICCI.
Bhutia was of the opinion that the I-League clubs’ move to approach FIFA won’t work as the world body will eventually pass the buck on to the AIFF to clear the mess.
Top I-League clubs such as Minerva Punjab, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have written to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, asking for his help in their fight for survival in Indian football.
Churchill Brothers, Aizawl FC and Gokulam Kerala FC are among the six clubs to have written to the sport’s global body, with Minerva owner Ranjit Bajaj signing the letter.
The clubs’ biggest bone of contention is the top tier status accorded to Indian Super League by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) as per the Master Right Agreement (MRA) signed between the AIFF and IMG-Reliance in 2010.
Bhutia is confident that AIFF will sort out all the issues.
“I can’t really comment on the federation and what is right and what is wrong but I am sure there are challenges for the federation as well. It’s not that the federation is not doing anything. I welcome (AIFF President) Praful Patel’s statement few days ago where he said that within few years the two leagues will be merged,” he said.
“I think we should be looking at leagues at different level with promotion and relegation system. It might take time but we should get into that structure.
“At the end of the day the game should go on. The game should be orgainsed in a bigger and better way.”
Bhutia, nicknamed as the Sikkimese Snipper, also said the federation needs to give time to new coach Igor Stimac to settle and the home team’s below-par performance at the Intercontinental Cup shouldn’t be take much seriously.
Going into the tournament as defending champions, India failed to progress to the final, losing two games while drawing one.
“We have a fairly new coach so it will take time for him to build a new team with new players. Our defenders have been hampered by a lot of injuries. He has not watched Indian football before coming here. The Intercontinental was more about seeing the players, getting the right combination, giving opportunities to a lot of young players,” Bhutia said.
India has been handed a relatively easy draw in the second round of 2022 World Cup qualifiers as they are pitted against Qatar, Oman, Bangladesh and Afghanistan in Group E.
“I think we were very lucky with the draw because our ranking was much better. Only Qatar looks a difficult team but overall we are fairly in a decent position this time,”
Eight years after retiring from international football, Bhutia is likely to return to the ground once more as he is likely to don East Bengal colours for a brief period in a match to mark the centenary celebrations.
“East Bengal is celebrating its centenary so there are talks going on in between me and the club that I should officially retire from club football with the team that gave me my career’s first opportunity,” he said.