SINCE AIFF HAVE lowered the steep financial stipulations for clubs applying for direct entry into I-League, it has opened up the door for many more hopeful clubs to take a chance at playing in the top division.
After the initial call for bids failed with all 3 applicants - Chennai City FC, Minerva AFC and FC Bardez - failing to meet the criteria set by AIFF. This prompted the Federation to issue a fresh call for tenders, with the last date for submission of bid documents being set on 8th December. All the clubs who previously applied were expected to re-apply. But now that the original requirement of a Rs 100 crore bank guarantee is no longer there, other clubs are also in the fray.
NEROCA FC (short for North Eastern Re-Organising Cultural Association Football Club), a second division club playing out of Imphal, Manipur, has picked up bid documents and will be in contention for direct entry into I-League 2016-17. The club makes a strong case for inclusion since they are one of the most popular lower league clubs in India, drawing crowds of more than 20,000 every matchday, even on weekday afternoons, during the 2nd Division League. Having them in the league will attract Manipuri fans home and away to flock to the stadiums or tune into the games on TV. High popularity was a factor in AIFF deciding to cancel Aizawl FC's relegation, so it's a justifiable reason to promote NEROCA.
Talking about popularity, a group from Kerala is also reportedly considering a move for an I-League direct entry. This unnamed consortium is yet to pick up the bid documents but if they do, AIFF will have strong reasons to admit them, since Kerala, one of the hubs of Indian football, have not had a club in the top division since Viva Kerala folded after being relegated in 2011-12 season.
This top division glory, of course, will be for just one season because NEROCA along with most other I-League clubs are likely to be moved to League One once the re-structuring of leagues takes place.
AIFF will announce their final decision on who will play in the I-League on 11th December. But considering Churchill Brothers are in the I-League and Dempo SC eventually pull out like Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa, this will leave AIFF with 8 existing clubs (East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Bengaluru FC, DSK Shivajians, Mumbai FC, Shillong Lajong, Aizawl FC, Churchill Brothers) which indicates that 2 of the new applicants will get into the league. In that case, NEROCA and Minerva are likely to be foremost in the considerations, as they bring in the biggest promises of popularity and geographical diversity.