The historic Hero I-League came to a premature finish due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic with Mohun Bagan A.C officially crowned Champions in the competition’s 13th season.
The season which officially kicked off on 30th November 2019 saw 11 teams in the competition with newly promoted Tiddim Road Athletic Union (TRAU) taking the place of relegated Shillong Lajong F.C.
The promotion of TRAU to the first division ensured that the I-League would experience its first Imphal derby in its history. This was definitely a sign of the better things to come for Indian football.
The I-League has always churned up surprises with underdogs claiming the title in each of the previous three seasons. This season saw a renaissance of Mohun Bagan A.C who cruised to the title losing only one game and winning 12 games in the process.
The team finished the season with a total of 39 points followed by Quess East Bengal FC with 23 points emphasizing the dominance of Mohun Bagan.
With this season of the Hero I-League coming to a premature close, we take a look at the major talking points concerning the I-League:
1. I-League is No More India’s Premier Football League
The Hero I League was relegated to effectively being the second division after the decision of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to award the AFC Champions league spot to the ISL League winners.
FC Goa will be the first India team in history to play in the group stages of the AFC Champions league whereas Mohun Bagan A.C will contest in the AFC Cup group stages.
The decision of having the premier division with a system of relegation-promotion has been officially deferred till 2024-25 making it impossible for all of the current I League teams to contest for the AFC Champions league place.
2. Step-motherly treatment to the I-League by AIFF
The discrimination meted to the I–League by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has been appalling over the last two seasons. The I-League has not got a proper broadcasting partner for the past two seasons.
D Sports signed a deal to broadcast this season of the Hero I-League but fans what fans were left to watch was an utter disaster to say the least. The crew lacked experience in covering a football game with the camera focussing a lot of times on the player having possession of the ball.
This denied fans about the movement of the players in front of him. This left a sour taste for all the fans waiting to get a glimpse of their teams.
3. Fans love the I-League
It is no secret that the I-League is being played in India’s tier two cities except for Kolkata and Mumbai.
This has had a positive impact on the League now reaching the length and breadth of the nation and involving fans from all over India. Fans turned up in large numbers to support their teams despite its relegation to the second tier.
The Kolkata derby between Mohun Bagan A.C and Quess East Bengal saw a massive attendance of around 64000 and Gokulam Kerala F.C witnessed tremendous support at Kozhikode with crowds crossing 30000.
This is a testament to the support the I-League teams still have even after its unfortunate relegation.
4. A possible merger of the two Leagues?
It is no surprise that football fans in India would want to witness a merger of the two leagues which will mean a teams playing each other home and away and creating a relishing prospect.
For instance, we could see a derby in Tamil Nadu between Chennaiyin FC and Chennai City FC if the merger does happen.
The development of Indian football through this merger would also be massive especially when teams get to play a full season instead of one which spans for a four-five month duration.
The merger would also ensure development at grass roots level in India. This will go a long way in ensuring fans continue their extended support to the clubs as they would now have a chance to fight for Asia’s top prize.
With the I-League losing its sheen, the AIFF needs to act quickly to ensure fans across the length and breadth of the country get an equal chance to support their clubs fight for the top prizes in the country.