Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri believes that merging the star-studded Indian Super League (ISL) with the I-League to create one competition with 16-18 teams going on for nearly all the year would be great for the game in the country.
The views of Chhetri – the highest goal scorer for India – came soon after All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary Kushal Das said on Saturday that the I-League and ISL would be merged within the next three years.
“I would love to have just one league in the country…. where there will be 16-18 teams and which goes on for 11 months and there will be a format of Federation Cup like the FA Cup in England,” Chhetri told IANS in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of Mumbai City FC’s jersey launch here.
“I just hope things work, like I-League, ISL and the Federation and AIFF sit together and chalk it out. It would be great to have that for Indian football,” said Chhetri, who has joined Mumbai City FC for the second edition of the ISL.
With the Indian team struggling to make its mark at the international stage, national coach Stephen Constantine had suggested that incorporating Persons of Indian origin (PIO) footballers in the side might yield positive results. Chhetri however, feels that this can only be a temporary solution.
The former Mohun Bagan striker also asserted that those who are selected should have the ability to fit seamlessly into the national squad.
“We have 1.3 billion people; we should not have needed to bring players from outside. But now he (Constantine) thinks the level of players he can bring from outside is much better than what we already have. If that’s true then it can temporarily happen,” said Chhetri who was named AIFF Player of the Year four times – in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2014.
“If it happens we have to make sure that whoever one or two players comes, he should have such a level that he can directly join the national squad. What we can’t have are 30 players on trial for camps from PIOs and Indias, which should not happen,” he said.
The 31-year-old striker, who has scored 50 goals at the international level, believes Indian football is moving on the right path, but needs to pick up speed.
“India football is going in the right direction; just we need to up the pace up things. We have so much talent. We have to trace them at young age, scout them and nurture them and give them proper training for building better and future players,” he said.
His team Mumbai City FC after finishing second from bottom in the 2014 season aims to better their performance in the upcoming season beginning on October 3.
“What happened last year does not hold a lot of importance this year. We have a great team, a great personality like Nicolas Anelka who is player-cum-coach. It’s just we have to start training and give our best.”
About former French World Cupper who has played for top European clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester City, Chhetri said: “There’s so much to learn from Anelka. I can’t imagine him as my coach and teammate now. It can’t get better than this. He is a legend here. Thanks to ISL that I am getting an opportunity to get to play with him.”