Not the right time to merge ISL, I-League: Baichung Bhutia

Mumbai, Sep 15 (IANS) Former national team captain Baichung Bhutia believes merging of Indian Super League (ISL) with I-League to create one competition will not be a good decision at this point of time for football in the country.

The 38-year-old, who has 40 international goals to his credit, opined that at first the standard of I-League must be upgraded to the “high class” level of ISL. “A decision could then be taken about merging the two leagues but not before that.”

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has expressed a desire to merge the two leagues in the future.

“To have one league is very important, but at the moment it is not right to merge ISL with I-League and I don’t it should happen also. Two three years down the line it can be thought and be implemented but currently it should not be done,” Bhutia told reporters here at a press conference.

“I think inaugural ISL season has been really successful, top foreign players are coming to India and the Indian players are getting to learn a lot from them. Alessandro Del Piero and lot of other stars came last season and now Roberto Carlos and Lucio are coming in,” he said.

AIFF recently held a meeting with all I-League club officials and chief promoters of ISL to discuss the future road map about how to merge the two leagues. AIFF president Praful Patel decided to form a working group to work out the way to unite the two in the future.

“To make it one league, we really need to wait and watch. At the moment I think ISL has done a lot for India and it should not be merged. I think I-League should be taken to a standard where ISL is at the moment and then think about merging. The level the ISL has reached is at the moment, the level should not be pulled down. Standard of I-League should be upgraded and then think of merging,” the former striker said.

The Arjuna Award winner also stressed that it is disappointing to see I-League matches being held in empty stadiums while ISL matches being attended by thousands of fans.

“It is just because of the ISL that Indian football fans have started watching football. It is really sad when you see I-League matches being played in almost empty stadiums and when ISL is happening in the same place, thousands of people turning up,” he said.

“The authorities should step up and take a note of it about upgrading the level of I-League and then focus on merging the two leagues. All the state associations also have to come forward and help in upgrading the I-League. We also have to see if the teams and players get a chance to train in better facilities, better ground,” the former East Bengal, Mohun Bagan star said.

Speaking about India national football team’s dismal performance in the ongoing qualifiers of 2018 World Cup, the former skipper backed Stephen Constantine saying the coach should be given much more time to settle down in his new job.

India lost to Oman, Guam and recently to Asian football giants Iran in the World Cup qualifiers.

“It is difficult for Indian football to match the class and performance Guam and Iran have. We didn’t get the results which we wanted to. Coach Constantine has got a new team. It is very unfair to him as well as the national team are not training under him for a long period of time at a stretch,” he said.

“The coach needs players to be with him and train under him for a good amount of time. Also a factor lot of players retired, when Constantine came in and he was left with all new players. We need to coach much more time with the team before taking a call,” Bhutia said.

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