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Bhaichung Bhutia not in favour of ISL-I League merger

“The first season of ISL was a huge success and I want it to be better in season 2. But I don’t see it (ISL merging with I-League) happening. ISL is a <g data-gr-id="45">three-month long</g> tournament and has attracted some very big names like Roberto Carlos. I don’t want ISL to merge with I-League,” said the ‘Sikkimese Sniper’ here at a media conference to announce DHL as the official logistics and timing partner of ISL.

Earlier this month, All-India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel said, after a joint meeting with I- League clubs and ISL organisers - IMG-Reliance - that a united league was the way <g data-gr-id="38">forward</g> but it would take some time to happen.

Faced with the prospect of <g data-gr-id="40">closure</g> of two Pune-based I-League teams, AIFF decided to form a working group as a precursor to <g data-gr-id="39">merge</g> the two championships.

“We are working towards one entity in future -- the I-League clubs and the ISL. A working group will be formed, about nine members, to work out the way,” Patel had said after the meeting that was held to lay the roadmap for the domestic club league. Bhutia sympathised with the predicament of the two Pune-based I-League clubs, Pune FC and Bharat FC, who are thinking of shutting shop in the near future. “I can understand their position. It’s not easy as sponsorship is difficult to get. I-league does not get the kind of TV viewership and mileage like ISL. I had my own club Sikkim United and though it’s not shut down, I am running it at a smaller scale,” said the 38-year-old star footballer.

He said the one small difference between his club and the Pune outfits was that the latter were backed by corporates and he advised them to “develop a good fan base” and also to spend “wisely”. 

“If you don’t win or don’t make money as well, but see 10,000 to 15,000 people coming to the stadium to support your team, that itself inspires the club owners, which we had in Sikkim. But for us it was the finance part -- we didn’t get sponsorship. I think they (Pune clubs) should try to hang on and spend wisely too,” said the former striker.

Bhutia wanted the state associations, ISL and I-League clubs to focus on grassroots development, a topic which he said he had been hammering out over the last 10-15 years.

“The responsibility lies with the stakeholders, including the state associations, which play big roles. The federation does not control players. The state associations should be more active but 90-95 per cent of them <g data-gr-id="47">don’t</g> do much in development of grassroots which is also the responsibility of I-League clubs and ISL clubs,” he stated.

In this respect he felt the FIFA U-17 World Cup, to be hosted by India two years from now, could change things a bit.

“The Under-17 World Cup will help us a lot in investing quite a lot in infrastructure. We have already started developing a team which is travelling in Germany now and which is together for a very long time. 
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