Aizawl FC's future in jeopardy as I-League may cease to exist

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Aizawl FC's future in jeopardy as I-League may cease to exist

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SportsCafe Desk

05/02/2017

Just days after winning the I-League, Aizawl FC's future in top-flight Indian football is in grave doubt following the possible merger of I-League with the cash-rich ISL that could see the Mizoram club being demoted on account of lack of budget even as they compete in the prestigious AFC Cup.

Aizawl created history by becoming the first northeast club to win the I-League, a year after almost being relegated from the tournament, and the team members were paraded through the streets of Aizawl to their home turf of Lammual but their happiness appears to be short-lived with the possibility of I-League ceasing to exist.

The All India Football Federation(AIFF) and their commercial partners IMG-Reliance are in discussions to have a new unified Indian football league in November featuring the eight existing franchises in the Indian Super League and at least three I-League clubs. The AIFF and IMG-R have been openly holding talks with Bengaluru FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal which are known as the three big football clubs of India. The other I-League clubs would be demoted to the second league division on account of this merger. 

The AIFF and IMG-R are in talks with Bengaluru FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. Following the merger, the other I-League clubs will be demoted to the second division.

"I woke up today and it was the best feeling – to be the owner of a champion club. But the whole day, the question has been bothering me: What will happen to Aizawl now?” Robert Royte, owner and president of Aizawl FC, said.

"How can the reigning champions be relegated to second division? We will not accept it, no chance,” said Royte, who is in the construction business.

“We will be playing in the Asian competitions. How silly will it be if the India’s champions are playing in Asia but back home, they are not allowed to play in the main league? I will write to the AIFF soon.”

AIFF president Praful Patel hasn't yet committed to Aizawl FC's inclusion in the new league. “I can only hope that the AIFF will include us. It’s a natural thing, no?” Royte asked.

Reports say Patel is to meet with officials of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in Mumbai on Friday with regards to their joining the new league. Bengaluru FC have already expressed their interest.

“Everything is going fine. Just relax. Don’t get into all these issues. Everybody is talking about this one thing (merged league). Is there no other thing in Indian football?” Patel told The Indian Express.

Aizawl FC lacks the budget required for the new league. It appears that for a team to be included in the new league the owners are expected to pay up Rs 15 crores as franchise fee alone, not to forget other team and player expenses. Aizawl FC won the I-League on a budget of a Rs. 1.5 crores. this season. 

Patel praised the I-League champions but said the team will need money to retain, buy and sell players.

"Their players will be seen as icons and will be picked up by other clubs. So they will have to spend more to retain some of the better players,” Patel said. “This is the first time they have come so (it was possible on a low budget). But in the long run, they will have to spend more on their own players and rightly so – players need more stable financial future. So they will have to spend more eventually,” he added. 

Meanwhile, Royte said fresh sponsorship was high on his agenda.

“I am looking for sponsors to invest in the team. But having less money does not mean we are sent to second division. That cannot be a reason,” he said. “You can’t ignore money, surely. But football can’t be only about it.”

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