New Delhi: A unified league is not in the offing but the All India Football Federation (AIFF) remains open to I-League clubs, most notably Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, playing the 2019-20 Indian Super League as part of a proposed restructuring.
"Provided they (I-League clubs) fulfil the ISL criteria, it is possible as part of restructuring," AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said Wednesday.
Fulfilling franchisee fee of Rs 15 crore is one of the criteria.
While the AIFF has been looking to merge the two domestic leagues, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed.
The arrival of Quess as sponsors has given East Bengal financial boost while Mohun Bagan are in talks with ATK to collaborate.
"Talks are in advanced stages between Mohun Bagan and ATK," a source monitoring the development said.
National team coach Stephen Constantine's contract runs till 19 January and Das said the performance of the national team in the AFC Asian Cup and the coach's wish will be taken into account when the time comes for renewal.
With plenty of optimism after an impressive run, the Indian team is leaving Thursday to play Oman in an international friendly on December 27, entering the final phase of preparation for the Asian Cup. The continental showpiece will be held in the UAE from 5 January to 1 February.
The team is likely to play a club side based in the Gulf on 30 December.
Ahead of the team's participation in the Asian Cup, AIFF president Praful Patel termed the country's fourth participation in the AFC tournament a "precursor to India's goal to achieve a berth in the FIFA World Cup by 2026."
"The Asian dream needs to be achieved by 2026 as there will be eight teams from Asia in the FIFA World Cup," Patel said at a press conference after a kit launch of the team.
"You just always cannot live a dream and we have to make the Asian dream a reality. And with the form the national team is in, and if Sunil Chhetri and everybody can pull their feet together, we can make it a reality," he added.
The Indian team had earlier participated in the Asian Cup in 1964, 1984 and 2011 editions.
"We should always go for the maximum and we should try to win the tournament, let alone get out of the group stages," Patel stated.
"We are mentally and physically prepared. We wish the team all the very best and they have the full support of the AIFF."
"The whole nation should support the national team and should fully get behind them. It is imperative that the nation roots for them and as the tournament is in UAE, I hope we will get a lot of support there."
India's top goal scorer Sunil Chhetri praised his teammates for the good run in recent times.
"The reasons that we have qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 is because players like Sandesh Jhingan, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Anirudh Thapa, Jeje and Udanta Singh and all others. It is because of these players that I go on the pitch without any pressure. They do all the hard work while I just tap the ball in," Chhetri said.
India have been drawn in Group A of the Asian Cup along with hosts UAE, Thailand and Bahrain. The Blue Tigers play their first match against Thailand on 6 January, followed by hosts UAE on 10 January, and Bahrain on 14 January.
"The Asian Cup is a massive tournament for India and everyone involved in the sport," said Constantine.
"We have three games from 6-14 January and I am focusing on them. We will take one game at a time and we have scouted Thailand intensively to the point that we have watched them 3-4 times for analysis," he informed.
"We look forward to make India proud," Constantine added.
Chhetri stated that "India will be looking to get no less than three points against Thailand".
"I was involved in the mock draw that happened for the Asian Cup and I was wondering what team we could draw. I knew whichever team that we drew, it would be difficult for us.
"But now, we are ready to face anyone. We are well prepared and looking forward to the challenge," Chhetri said.
Comparing India's preparation to the one in 2011, Chhetri added: "In 2011, we were together for six months. But this time of the year, all the boys that have been selected are playing constantly in the Indian Super League and the I-League.
"Now we just have to come together as a single unit and give it our best shot when we get to UAE.
"I try my best to motivate the team like players like Rennedy Singh, Abhishek Yadav, Surkumar and Bhaichung Bhutia did in 2011. I believe that actions speak louder than words and we have come to a time where one player pushes the other to excel," he quipped.
Constantine said the team has "enough time to acclimatise".
"We have tried our best to prepare in the best possible fashion. We wanted to play big teams and strong teams like we did against China, Jordan. We next play Oman on December 27. We have got the right amount of competition to build us and are ready."
Nishu Kumar and Jerry Lalrinzuala have been released from the ongoing camp in Delhi due to injuries.
Updated Date: Dec 19, 2018 20:24:04 IST