ISL, I-League merger by 2018: AIFF

New Delhi: The AIFF is looking to bring its two flagship football tournaments -- Indian Super League and I-League -- together by 2018 but is averse to the idea of calling it a merger, general secretary Kushal Das said here on Wednesday.

Kushal Das
Kushal Das

Das insisted it is not necessarily just a mere merger of two tournaments but a holistic approach to unite all top clubs of the country under a common umbrella.

"We are not viewing it as a merger of ISL and I-League. It is a review of Indian club football structure. So far, we have held only initial discussions. There will be several more discussions regarding it," Das told IANS on the sidelines of a programme.

"No benchmark or time frame has been targetted to complete the process. But we are trying to do it as soon as possible. We are trying to do it by 2017, or else it will be done in 2018," he added.

"We are looking at how to do it, when to do it, so it is not simply a merger. The top league will be opened to allow bids from other clubs. But it would be wrong to call it a merger."

Das was speaking at a programme at which an Indo-French joint initiative to develop football in the country was announced.

The I-League's failure to connect with the masses paved way for the Indian Super League's (ISL) emergence in 2014. The new tournament, laced with a heavy dose of glitz and glamour, has diminished the prominence of I-League even further.

"The existing calendar in the country is problematic. First ISL, then I-League, then Federation Cup -- that forced such a step. The new league will stretch from October to March. It will solve the prevalent problems regarding scheduling and calendar," Das said.

The existence of two leagues in a country's football calendar is not approved by world governing body FIFA, which still identifies I-League as the country's premier competition That has forced the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to consider a merger of the two tournaments.

Das refused to divulge details about the merger process but said discussions are at a preliminary stage and are developing satisfactorily. He believed an agreeable consensus will be reached, benefitting all the involved parties.

According to reports, Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and newly-crowned I-League champions Bengaluru FC are the clubs to be incorporated in the unified league.

Das added that national chief coach Stephen Constantine's performance is being reviewed after India lost seven of the eight 2018 World Cup qualifying matches. But he has been given time till India's Asian Cup play-offs in June against Laos to salvage his job.

"Let's see what happens. We have a contract with him till 2017. In June, we have the play-offs against Laos. Let's see how India performs there. No one has been approached or identified as his successor. We are waiting for June."

Das also said the infrastructural development regarding the Under-17 World Cup, to be hosted by India next year, is moving ahead satisfactorily.

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