THE RACE TO ENTER the I-League via the new direct entry tender that AIFF have called for is attracting attention from a number of clubs who were never seen as top division contenders.
Sudeva FC, a club based out of New Delhi, are said to be applying for a direct entry into the top division. Though the club, owned by Sudeva Sports Pvt Ltd, has no experience of playing in the professional national leagues before, they recently acquired Moonlight FC, Delhi's most successful club that had a stint in the 2nd Division League. Sudeva FC have an academy in New Delhi and participate in the U-15 Youth League.
The other big surprising entrant in the race are United Sports Club. The club, established back in 1927 as Eveready Sports Association, earned a promotion to the I-League back in 2007. At one point they were a force to reckon with in the top division, finishing 4th back in the 2012-13. After the 2013-14 season, they were excluded from the I-League for failing to fulfil the AIFF licensing criteria along with Churchill Brothers. Now that Churchill have been allowed back into the I-League citing legacy and past performance, United SC claim they should be allowed to play in I-Leaue 2016-17 by the same metric.
It's unlikely that either Sudeva or United SC will be allowed to play in the I-League. But the amount of clubs that have expressed interest in playing in the league after AIFF lowered its stipulated requirement of Rs 100 crore bank guarantee must be encouraging to some extent for the Federation.
If enough clubs sign up, AIFF will have the option to expand the league up to 12 clubs. Other notable applicants include NEROCA FC, FC Bardez, Chenni City FC and Minerva AFC. Other clubs like Ozone FC from Bengaluru as well as an unnamed team from Kerala may yet get into the race. The last date of submitting applications is 8th December, and the final decision on the matter will be announced by AIFF on 11th December.