IT'S OFFICIAL: the AIFF Executive Committee met at the Football House in Delhi today and decided to resurrect the country's premier cup tournament, the Federation Cup.
The prestigious tournament, that began back in 1977, has been running annually as one of the most coveted titles in Indian football, was scrapped canned earlier this year in order to free up more space for the Indian Super League. The decision was met with disappointment from clubs, players and fans alike. This meant that the traditional football clubs in India that believed in operating full-season only had I-League to look forward to.
But in the recent meeting of the I-League committee, a proposal was raised to bring back the Federation Cup, as an 8-team knockout tournament played on home-and-away basis during the month of May, after the conclusion of the I-League. Today, at the AIFF Executive Committee meeting chaired by AIFF President Praful Patel, the proposal has received the green signal.
But why is the Cup coming back? Since the inception of ISL the tournament was seen as nothing more than a scheduling nuisance by AIFF. The last edition of the Cup was hastily organized in Goa, minus any publicity, and played out over less than two weeks where clubs had to play 6 matches with virtually no break. Many of the matches weren't even televised because the organizers failed to obtain an uplink permit from the venue on time. So what is the reason AIFF has changed its tune and decided to bring it back?
The main reason behind that is a regulation set forth by Asian Football Confederation: that for a club to be eligible for participation in the AFC Champions League, they must at least play 18 matches in officially recognized domestic tournaments. But since Royal Wahingdoh has decided to pull out, the I-League has been left with 9 clubs in its top divisions. That means each club will only get to play 16 matches through their entire season. That leaves the champions of India short of the numbers required to play in ACL.
But bringing back Federation Cup -- where the top 8 clubs in I-League will get to compete -- solves that issue as it ensures that whoever wins the league gets at least 18 matches to their season. The adoption of double leg home-away format, which will continue from the first round all the way till the finals, also ensures that fans around the country will be able to enjoy the knockout competition at their own grounds.
The winner of the Fed Cup will also get to play at the AFC Cup qualifiers; a second chance for clubs who missed out on the league title to make it to Asia.
This effectively means that the I-League 2015-16 will be a 4 month affair running from January to April. How they manage to fit it within that window, while making room for Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC's Asia commitments as well as India's World Cup Qualifier matches, will be something to look out for in the fixture list. But it shouldn't be that hard: there are only 9 clubs left after all.