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I-League clubs firm on ACL slot, propose fresh roadmap to AIFF

Sayan Mukherjee

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I-League clubs have often accused the AIFF of step motherly treatment towards them.

New Delhi: ‘Rebel’ I-League clubs are ready to accept an extension of the existing statusquo of two league structure for another three years but only if they retain their “rightfully earned” AFC Champions League spot.

The six clubs – Quess East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Churchill Brothers, Aizwal FC, Minerva Punjab FC and Gokulam Kerala FC – have written a mail to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) informing their decision in as many words on Thursday.

A copy of the mail, which also has a 10-point detailed roadmap of Indian football, is in possession of Sports Lounge.

Patel met with representatives of the six clubs in the Capital on Wednesday and expressed his plan of continuing with its two league structure but await a stamp of approval from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

Contractual obligations compel the AIFF to nominate the Indian Super League (ISL) – conceptualised and run by FSDL, a subsidiary of IMG-Reliance and AIFF’s marketing – as the top league from the 2019-20 season.

Presently, the I-League champion plays in the ACL qualifiers while the ISL winner plays in the AFC Cup – the continent’s tier two competition.

The new arrangement was formulated keeping in mind the interests of FSDL and it could have been swiftly put into motion had the clubs agreed to accept the AFC Cup slot – given to the country’s top knock-out competition, which presently the ISL occupies.

But the clubs have refused to accept this tacit “demotion,” which Patel had termed as a “minor issue” after speaking to the clubs on Wednesday. They also demanded the I-League to be referred as the national football league of the country, which as things stand it is.

Reverting within 24 hours to the AIFF president Praful Patel’s proposal of continuing with the two league structure, the clubs said they the AFC Champions league qualifier spot – awarded to winner of the country’s national league, the I-League – should remain with them as they have earned them over the years.

“The clubs are not in favour of giving away their rightfully earned and longstanding AFC Champions league spot till a proper plan for unified league is initiated. The United I-League clubs insist that the AFC Champions league spot must remain with the I-League as it is the I-League clubs that have (over the years) earned the AFC spots for India to enjoy today,” the clubs wrote in the letter.

“The AIFF has already granted AFC Cup slot to ISL in 2017 and the same arrangement should continue till there is one unified league.”

The clubs also put forward a demand of signing a tri-partite agreement between the AIFF, I-League and FSDL regarding the interim roadmap, should there be a consensus among the three stakeholders of Indian football.

“It is recommended that a tri-partite agreement clearly outlining the way forward, be signed among AIFF, I-League clubs and FSDL for the upcoming three years to avoid recurring confrontations among the stakeholders,” the letter said.

“The I-League clubs also suggest that these crucial decisions and developments should be clearly put in front of all parties (AFC, FIFA, FSDL) in the interest of the Indian football.”

With no calendar declared for the 2019-20 season and uncertainty over AIFF’s TV partners to broadcast I-League matches, Patel had proposed a 50-50 model to the clubs for telecast of the league’s matches.

Patel said on Wednesday he would speak to Indian football’s official broadcaster to foot half of annual broadcast costs (believed to be around Rs 7 crore) of the tournament provided the clubs agree to fund the remaining half.

The clubs agreed to the “not ideal” broadcast plans for the upcoming season but demanded formation of a committee with representatives from the AIFF and I-League clubs, which would be “solely responsible for taking decisions regarding I-League, the I-League second division and youth leagues.”

The proposed I-League committee would “negotiate and finalise the production house”. The matches would have to kick off at 5pm IST and 7pm IST (2pm/3pm for non-floodlight venues) and would have to be shown live on an HD channel with improved production quality.

The AIFF didn’t put forward any immediate response after receiving the demands. The governing body will hold its executive committee meeting on July 9 it is expected to draw a plan for the impending season.

An I-League club official, who wished not to be named, said the clubs are ready to mull legal action if the AIFF refuses to entertain their “justified” demands and act according to the tunes of its marketing partners.

Football Lounge

India suffer another big defeat in Intercontinental Cup

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India next play Syria in their last group league match on Tuesday.

Ahmedabad: India’s desperate attempt in the second half wasn’t enough as they went down 2-5 to DPR Korea in their second match of the Hero Intercontinental Cup at the EKA Arena.

With two losses in as many games, India still have a chance of making it to the final, provided they beat Syria by a huge margin in their next match, and hope Tajikistan beat DPR Korea in the other.

While Lallianzuala Chhangte, and Sunil Chhetri scored one each to reduce the margin for India, DPR Korea captain Jong Il Gwan was the star of the show scoring two, and assisting another. Furthermore, Sim Hyon Jin, and Ri Un Chol, and Ri Hyon Kin scored one apiece for the winners.

Indian national team head coach Igor Stimac said that there was “courage, and confidence on display in the second half.”

“In the second-half, we came out with out with heads up. We had the courage, and confidence when we decided to play football. In the first-half, we played without courage and self- confidence,” he stated in the post-match press conference.

“I gave the players the chance to play for India and asked them to enjoy their football. But if you do not show courage, and fight you cannot win,” he added.

“In the second-half, we started taking responsibility, and created chances. We were dangerous in front of their goal. But it was difficult to keep shape, and go up and down continuously. But I’m proud of the way they played,” the Coach explained.

Down 0-3 in the first half, a couple of changes by India Head Coach Igor Stimac at half-time brought back the thrust for India. The introduction of Lallianzuala Chhangte, and Udanta Singh in place of Manvir Singh, and Brandon Fernandes provided India the much-needed impetus.

The Blue Tigers pulled one back soon when Sunil Chhetri latched on to a stray ball, and played Chhangte through the channel. The latter, took control, and smashed it into the bottom corner. However, Ri Chol soon added a fourth for Korea, after being played through by captain Gwon.

In the 71st minute, Sunil Chhetri managed another one for India – his 71st International goal off a cross from Udanta.

India next play Syria in their last group league match on July 16.

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Football Lounge

Barcelona sign Griezmann transfer from Atletico Madrid

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Barcelona: Barcelona have announced that they have signed French forward Antoine Griezmann on a five-season contract.

The announcement came after the player’s international representatives paid his 120-million-euro buyout clause included in his contract with Atletico Madrid at the LaLiga offices.

“FC Barcelona has paid the 120 million euro buyout clause to release Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid,” the Catalan club said in a statement on its website on Friday.

“The player will sign a contract with his new club for the next five seasons, through to 30 June 2024, with a buyout clause of 800 million euros.”

The 28-year-old could be unveiled to the media and fans during the weekend so that he can join the team for the first pre-season training session scheduled for July 15.

This is Barcelona’s third signing for the new season, following midfielder Frenkie de Jong on a move from Ajax and goalkeeper Neto who joined Barcelona from Valencia.

It came a year after Griezmann turned down an offer by Barcelona and his refusal was revealed in a controversial documentary produced by Barcelona’s Spain defender Gerard Pique.

He preferred to stay at Atletico and renew his contract with the capital team, an agreement that included a substantial salary raise.

However, it did not close the door for his potential departure as the 200-million-euro buyout clause was reduced to 120 million as of July 1.

Twelve days later, Griezmann became a Barcelona player.

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Football Lounge

FC Goa sign winger Alex Romario Jesuraj for three years

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Alex Romario Jesuraj along with Ravi Puskur, Head of Technical Operations at FC Goa.

Panaji:  Winger Alexander Romario Jesuraj has joined FC Goa on a 3-year-deal, which will keep him at the club until the summer of 2022.

The 22-year-old made 34 appearances for I-League side Chennai City FC across the previous two seasons, ending 2018-’19 with a winners’ medal. The flying winger is widely considered as an exciting player, scoring four goals for CCFC, earning the sobriquet of “Namma Neymar Romario” (Our Neymar Romario).

Named after Brazilian legend and FIFA World Cup winner Romario, the winger from Dindigul broke into the Tamil Nadu Under-16 team at 13, also earning himself a place in the India Under-13 camp. He started his senior level career at Arrows FC in the Chennai Football Association Senior Division before switching to I-League side Chennai City FC.

Romario was happy to join FC Goa and reserved words of praise for their style of football. “I am very excited to join the best club in India. I watched them play last season and understood that this is the type of football that I wanted to play.”

Ravi Puskur, Head of Technical Operations at FC Goa, said, “We are very pleased with the capture of Romario, adding to the roster of highly talented Indian youngsters at the club. He is an exciting winger who is very dynamic on the pitch. He is also a proven winner, having won a league title at a relatively young age.”

The Tamil Nadu winger will be sent out on loan to Mohun Bagan for the upcoming season.

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