With East Bengal set to enter the Indian Super League (ISL), following the footsteps of their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan, it certainly is a landmark development in Indian football.
While Mohun Bagan merged with ATK to form ATK Mohun Bagan, East Bengal have roped in new investors Shree Cement Limited who are set to boost their bid to join ISL which is just a matter of formality.
The entry of the two Kolkata giants into the top-tier of Indian football certainly bodes well for the fans but also goes a long way towards fulfilling the objectives laid down in the roadmap for Indian football that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) formulated in 2019 under advice from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
The top brass of the AIFF, led by President Praful Patel and General Secretary Kushal Das, had chalked out the roadmap for the future in the midst of a tiff between I-League clubs and the AIFF. The clubs were pushing for promotion and relegation to be introduced into the ISL.
AIFF first presented a draft roadmap in September 2019 before the AFC approved it at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur a month later. It must be noted that AFC General Secreatary Dato Windsor had even travelled to India and held a meeting with the stakeholders before approving the plan.
It gave the seal of approval to the blueprint which saw Indian Super League (ISL) being recognised as India's top league and was granted a spot in the AFC Champions League, and also awarded an AFC Cup qualifying spot to the I-League winners as a contingency plan till 2022.
The roadmap states that the winner of the I-League in 2022-23 and 2023-24 will stand a chance to be promoted to the ISL with no participation fee involved. From the 2024-25 season, promotion and relegation will be introduced in the ISL and it will no longer be a closed league.
Apart from the aforementioned developments, one of the key recommendations was the addition of two I-League clubs into ISL by the end of 2020-21 season, subject to the clubs fulfilling the criteria of the league.
Roadmap proposed by AFC and AIFF. #IndianFootball pic.twitter.com/FWyLfxofLl— #IndianFootball (@India__Football) October 14, 2019
With Mohun Bagan and East Bengal set to ply their trade in the upcoming season of ISL, this particular recommendation has now been implemented in advance.
While the long tussle between East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and ISL is set to come to an end, it is a relief for the AIFF after getting the two legacy clubs into the top tier of Indian football amidst all the acrimonious cricumstances they endured in the past couple of years.
There are only winners in this development apart from maybe the I-League, which will suffer a likely loss in viewership and interest.