Football fans across India are eagerly awaiting the start of the I-League which is one of the top professional football leagues in the country. The I-League has been around since 2007 and was expected to commence on 01 August 2020 and run till 31 May 2021.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to make significant changes to the I-League’s format and shorten its regular season.
I-League Will Have Shorter Season
AIFF has decided to shorten the I-League by changing the regular format for the league where each team used to play the other team twice before going into the playoffs. Now, each team will only compete once against the other team due to the shortened season.
The new I-League will have two stages and in the first stage a total of 80 matches will take place where each of the 11 teams will play each other once. Once the first phase is complete, the top 5 teams will make it to the playoffs and compete for the championship. The remaining 6 teams will play each other once more and battle it out to prevent themselves from being relegated.
The format adopted by the AIFF is one that is being followed by a number of football leagues across the world in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chinese Super League (CSL) is one such league that has adopted a similar format.
I-League Will Commence From December 26
I-League qualifiers will commence from October 8 while the official I-League season will start from December 26. The AIFF has decided to create a bio-bubble in West Bengal for all 11 teams that are expected to participate in the I-League. While the usual format sees teams play in their respective states, the AIFF had no option but to create a bio-bubble and chose West Bengal due to the infrastructure, logistics and fan base.
The 10 I-League teams that have been confirmed as of now include Chennai City, TRAU, Aizawl, Gokulam Kerala, Sudeva, Churchill Brothers, Real Kashmir, Punjab, NEROCA and Indian arrows. The 11th team will be the winners of the 2019-20 2nd Division League qualifiers.
The latest addition to the I-League is the Delhi team Sudeva FC who came into the league after the AIFF launched a bidding process to get a new team into the I-League. The two teams that have left the I-League are Mohun Bagan who merged with ATK and moved over to the Indian Super League (ISL) and East Bengal who have also moved on to the ISL after their new investors Shree Cement Limited put in a bid for the ISL and moved the team forward.
Foreign Players To Light Up I-League
The AIFF has made changes to the format which now allows I-League franchises to get 3+1 foreign players. A number of teams have shopped heavily outside and brought in some big names that are expected to light up the I-League. The 3+1 rule allows teams to have 4 foreign players but one of those players must be from a country belonging to the Asian Football Confederation .
Aizawl have signed Liberian football player Alfred Jaryan, Richard Kasagga from Uganda and Princewill Emeka from Nigeria. Real Kashmir has brought on board Aser Pierrick Dipanda from Cameroon and Mason Robertson from Scotland. Churchill Brothers have signed Clayvin Zúñiga from the Honduras while NEROCA has signed Liberian player Varney Kallon.
Kerala Blasters recently announced that they have signed Englishman Gary Hopper who used to play as a striker for Norwich City. Kerala has also signed Spanish player Vicente Gomez and Argentinean mid-fielder Facundo Pereira. Expect the names of more foreign players to be released in the next few weeks.