|Number of teams||14|
|Levels on pyramid||1|
|Relegation to||I-League 2nd Division|
|Domestic cup(s)||Federation Cup|
|League cup(s)||Durand Cup|
|International cup(s)||AFC Champions League (1 play-off spot)
|Current champions||Churchill Brothers (2nd title)
|Most championships||Dempo (3 titles)|
|TV partners||TEN Action+|
The I-League is an Indian professional league for association football clubs. At the top of the Indian football league system, it is the country's top football competition. Contested by 14 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with the I-League 2nd Division. Seasons run from October to May, with teams playing 26 matches each, totalling 182 matches in the season. Most games are played on Saturdays and Sundays, with a few games played during weekdays.
The competition formed as the ONGC I-League in 2007 following the decision to fold the old National Football League and make a new professional league. The league also started by signing Zee Sports as the official broadcaster of the I-League. The aim of the league was to have 16 clubs by the third season in which teams would be spread from all over India.
Since 2007, a total of three clubs have been crowned champions. Of the sixteen to have played in the league since the inception of the I-League in 2006, three have won the title: Dempo (3 titles), Churchill Brothers (2 titles), and Salgaocar (1). The current champions are Churchill Brothers, who won the title during the 2012–13 season.
- 1 History
- 2 Competition format
- 3 Sponsorship
- 4 Media coverage
- 5 Criticism
- 6 Clubs, stadiums and locations
- 7 Head Coaches
- 8 Stats and players
- 9 Awards
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Following the decline of the National Football League (NFL), the All India Football Federation (AIFF) relaunched the national league for the 2007–08 season. It was renamed the I-League and consisted of eight teams from the NFL plus two promoted teams from the former Division Two. The first I-League was sponsored by ONGC, who were the previous sponsors of the now-defunct NFL. For the first time, clubs in the I-League were allowed to register four foreigners, though teams will only be allowed to field three during a match. All matches were telecast live and exclusive on Zee Sports.
The following additional incentives have been provided for clubs participating in the I-League:
- A subsidy of 250,000 for fielding a team in the U19 I-League and a subsidy of 250,000 for appointing administrative staff.
- To promote greater attendances and improve the revenues of the clubs, after deducting the stadium hire charges, 90% of the gate collection will go to the host club. The club will be responsible for the selling of tickets.
- The club will be given two perimeter boards, six fence level boards and six boards at the first tier level at their home games.
- Prize money for winners has been increased from 4 million to 5 million, while the runners-up would get 2.8 million, 600,000 more than earlier.
- The winners of each match will get 35,000, an increase of 5,000.
The early years (2007–2010)
The first game was played on 24 November 2007 between Dempo Sports Club and Salgaocar Sports Club. The introduction of the I-League was an attempt to seek to change the way Indian clubs approach football. All clubs were required to have at least 14 professionals on their books and the introduction of an under-19 development team.
After 18 rounds, Dempo Sports Club won the championship on goal difference with Churchill finishing runners-up. Viva Kerala (now Chirag United Club Kerala) and Salgaocar Sports Club were both relegated and played the next season in the second division.
The following season featured 12 teams from four different cities with the league champions qualifying for the ACL and the runners-up for the AFC Cup club championships in 2010. The bottom two teams were again relegated to the I-League 2nd Division for the next season.
The I-League 2008–09 season ran from 26 September 2008 to 15 April 2009 with a break in December for the Federation Cup and Durand Cup. Most games that season were played on Saturdays and Sundays to attract a larger crowd.
The league expanded to 14 clubs for the 2009–10 season. Salgaocar, Viva Kerala (now Chirag United Club Kerala), Pune and Shillong Lajong were promoted for that season. Dempo later won the I-League to earn a spot into the AFC Champions League 2011.
For the first time in the league the India under-21 team (called the AIFF XI) was part of the league, it was based in New Delhi and AIFF ran the club. Its main agenda was to provide first team opportunities to youngsters and groom them for FIFA World Cup 2018. After a long gap, Indian capital of New Delhi and major city Bangalore were back to the top flight. After 26 matches played by all 14 sides Salgaocar came out as the winners while ONGC and JCT FC were relegated to I-League 2nd Division.
Conflict of parties
On 9 December 2010 the All India Football Federation signed a 15-year, 7 billion deal with Reliance Industries and American company International Management Group. The agreement reportedly gave IMG-Reliance all commercial rights to football in India, including sponsorship, advertising, broadcasting, merchandising, film, video and data, intellectual property, franchising and new league rights. IMG-Reliance was also reportedly given the rights to scheduling, restructuring and reformatting of the domestic competitions. At the same time, due to the end of the Zee Sports deal, title sponsors Oil and Natural Gas Corporation decided to not sponsor the league and drop their name from the league title.
On 5 October 2011 it was announced that after one season of the I-League going without telecasting that TEN Sports would broadcast the league for the 2011–12 season. The agreement was only for one season in which TEN Sports would broadcast 75 games during the season.
On 7 February 2012 the I-League clubs held a special meeting between 12 of the 14 I-League clubs (Pailan Arrows and HAL not attending) in Mumbai. Discussions in the meeting were not disclosed. On 22 February 2012 it was announced that the I-League club owners were not happy about the way IMG-Reliance was operating and how they have barely done anything to improve the league. In doing so the clubs decided that they would not fill in the Asian Football Confederation licensing criteria which would mean that I-League clubs could not play in the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup. A few days before however the AIFF and IMG came out with potential plans for a revamp of the I-League along the lines of Major League Soccer in America in which there would be conferences, play-offs, etc.
On 11 March 2012 the I-League owners formed the "Indian Professional Football Clubs Association" (IPFCA) to safeguard their interests and promote football in India. The members of the IPFCA were Air India, Chirag United Kerala, Churchill Brothers, Dempo, East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Mumbai, Prayag United, Pune, Salgaocar, Shillong Lajong, and Sporting Goa. The IPFCA also announced that their main objectives were to help make the I-League sustainable and profitable, encourage the formation of new professional clubs, and get I-League teams to play in the AFC Champions League.
There was a meeting scheduled between the AIFF, IMG-Reliance, and the IPFCA around 20 April 2012 in which IMG-Reliance would present their plan to grow the I-League to the demands of the IPFCA but the meeting never occurred with the reason never being found out for why the meeting never happened. On 4 May 2012, the AIFF hosted the last ad hoc meeting which was an annual meeting between the AFC and AIFF to assess how the AIFF was doing in terms of professionalism in India. The AFC President, Zhang Jilong, was also in attendance. This meeting was described as the perfect opportunity for the I-League clubs to voice their displeasure at AIFF and IMG-Reliance, but instead the I-League clubs skipped the meeting for reasons unknown.
On 18 June 2012 the I-League owners officially sanctioned the Indian Professional Football Clubs Association under the Society's Act 1960. This was announced during a meeting with representatives of the I-League clubs. Salgaocar general secretary, Raj Gomes, was named the President of the IPFCA. Meanwhile there was more displeasure from the IPFCA as they were unhappy that the AIFF announced the schedule for 2012–13 without consulting the I-League clubs first, as promised. The organisation also said that they still want to pursue their demand to make I-League a separate entity. They have also asked the AIFF and IMG-Reliance to share the television revenue earned from the I-League with the clubs.
Small rise in popularity
Despite the war between the AIFF and IPFCA, the I-League gained a small rise in popularity. This was mainly caused by the India national football team and their participation in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Even though India lost all three of their pool matches, and they finished at the bottom of their pool, the team came home being more popular and more well known. Subrata Pal notably gained in popularity for league after the then Pune F.C. goalkeeper made many heroic saves during the Asian Cup. Before the Asian Cup, the I-League and Indian Football gained some more notability among the public when it was announced that India captain Sunil Chhetri signed with Major League Soccer club Sporting Kansas City (then Kansas City Wizards) from Dempo. This news was made more significant by the fact that this was the third time an Indian footballer played outside of India.
The league was given an even bigger boost from its main derby every season, the East Bengal–Mohun Bagan rivalry. The more notable match took place on 20 November 2011 when 90,000 people went to the Salt Lake Stadium to see Bagan beat East Bengal 1–0. This was a great feat for Indian football as a crowd like that Football in India is rising in popularity. More popularity was given to I-League in April 2012 when United Sikkim joined the league from the I-League 2nd Division. United Sikkim's popularity was due to the fact that United Sikkim was part owned by Indian football legend Baichung Bhutia who was from Sikkim himself.
The biggest news of the I-League era was when India captain Sunil Chhetri (who came back from Kansas City in 2011) moved out of India again, this time to play for Sporting Clube de Portugal. Several other Indian players from the league have also gone to foreign clubs as well but on trials like Subrata Pal to Red Bull Leipzig or Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to Wigan Athletic.
While Indian players were leaving or trialing abroad, the I-League clubs were busy signing players. The most notable signing came on 27 June 2012 when Prayag United signed Costa Rican international and former A-League player of the year, Carlos Hernández. Hernández's signing has been seen as the biggest in the league as he has also played in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Churchill Brothers also made a high profile signing of lower calibre to Hernández when they signed Lebanese international defender Bilal Najjarin.
There are 15 teams in the I-League. During the course of a season (from October to May) each club plays the others twice, once at their home stadium and once at that of their opponents, for a total of 28 games. Teams receive three points for a win and one point for a draw. No points are awarded for a loss. Teams are ranked by total points. At the end of each season, the club with the most points is crowned champion.
The I-League has been sponsored since 2007. There have been two title-sponsors since the league's formation.
Television will play a major role in the history of the I-League. The money from television rights will be vital in helping to create excellence both on and off the field. The League's decision to assign broadcasting rights to Zee Sports in 2007 was at the time a radical decision. After going three years into a 10-year deal Zee Sports terminated its deal with the All India Football Federation, which meant that the 2010–11 I-League season went on with no televised channel except for the Kolkata teams which managed to get a one-year TV contract with a Calcutta TV corporation to televise all home games for East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and United Sports Club. On 30 September 2011, it was announced that the AIFF broadcast partners IMG Reliance had struck a deal for the I-League to be shown regionally in Bengal and North-Eastern India on News Time Bangla and News Time Assam for the 2011–12 season. This new deal will mean that up to 75 matches would be shown live on TV for the season.
On 4 October 2011, it was announced that TEN Sports would broadcast the 2011–12 season nationally across India along with the regional broadcasters and would also show at least 75 matches that season. On 1 October 2012, IMG-Reliance announced a three-year broadcast deal with TEN Sports. Ten Action will broadcast the I-League from the 2012–13 to the 2014–15 season and will also broadcast the 2012–13 and 2013–14 seasons of the Federation Cup.
On 7 November 2012 it was announced that the All India Football Federation commercial partners, IMG-Reliance had signed a deal with internet streaming website "iStream" to upload matches from TEN Action so the fans can watch the matches online from anywhere in the world. This was also the first time that matches from the I-League can be watched online. Only 75 games were announced to be available for viewing online.
The I-League continues to experience financial problems for a variety of reasons including lack of merchandising, TV revenue or tournament income. It has been reported that most I-League clubs fail to have any marketing plan when it comes to supporters which explains average crowds of 3913 in the I-League 2010–11, making it difficult for Indian clubs to make money. Since the formation of the I-League, two clubs, Mahindra United (2010) and JCT FC (2011), have disbanded due to financial troubles. Fans have argued that attendances at I-League matches are so low because of the timing of matches during the mid-afternoon around 4:00pm Indian Standard Time. It has been suggested that matches could be moved to later in the evening when temperatures are lower and more people will be free to see the matches.
Many football experts have suggested that the reason India does not do well nationally is because of the number of foreign players playing in the I-League, mainly in attacking areas. Since the I-League began in 2007 the league has not seen an Indian take the golden boot while two Nigerians have.
Most football clubs in India are what are termed Institutional teams. That means it is difficult for players or coaches to turn into complete professionals. The players who play for institutional teams would also work on a full-time job outside of the game for his company the team was sponsored by. This is much the same model which was found in Japan before the introduction of the J. League. The positives are that the teams are usually well resourced with players earning decent money and the prospect of employment after their footballing days finish. On the negative side, teams only represent a few thousand workers rather than whole cities and thus do not gain broad support.
Clubs, stadiums and locations
The following 13 clubs will be competing in the I-League during the 2013–14 season.
|Bengaluru FC||Bangalore||Karnataka||Bangalore Football Stadium||40,000|
|Churchill Brothers||Salcette||Goa||Duler Stadium||6,000|
|East Bengal||Kolkata||West Bengal||Salt Lake Stadium||120,000|
|Mohammedan||Kolkata||West Bengal||Salt Lake Stadium||120,000|
|Mohun Bagan||Kolkata||West Bengal||Salt Lake Stadium||120,000|
|Mumbai||Mumbai||Maharashtra||Balewadi Sports Complex||20,000|
|Prayag United||Kolkata||West Bengal||Salt Lake Stadium||120,000|
|Pune||Pune||Maharashtra||Balewadi Sports Complex||20,000|
|Rangdajied United||Shillong||Meghalaya||Nehru Stadium||30,000|
|Salgaocar||Vasco da Gama||Goa||Duler Stadium||6,000|
|Shillong Lajong||Shillong||Meghalaya||Nehru Stadium||30,000|
|Sporting Clube de Goa||Panjim||Goa||Duler Stadium||6,000|
All stats are since I-League began in 2007
|Team Names||Most Wins||Titles||Other Club||Titles||Draws||Recent winner|
|East Bengal and Mohun Bagan||Mohun Bagan||5||East Bengal||3||4||East Bengal|
|Pune and Mumbai||Pune||4||Mumbai||1||3||Mumbai|
|Shillong Lajong and Rangdajied United||Rangdajied United||0||Shillong Lajong||0||1||None|
Before the 2010–11 I-League season, a national youth league was set up with the I-League to bring young Indian talent into the league. The league's inaugural season was made up of 15 teams, each linked to the corresponding Indian club in the I-League (excluding Pailan Arrows).
Head Coaches in the I-League are involved in the day to day running of the team, including the training, team selection, and, partly, player acquisition. Their influence varies from club-to-club and is related to the ownership of the club and the relationship of the manager with fans. Managers are required to have an Asian Pro License which is the final coaching qualification available, and follows the completion of the AFC 'A' and 'B' Licences. The AFC Pro Licence is required by every person who wishes to manage a club in the I-League on a permanent basis.
|Jamil, KhalidKhalid Jamil||Mumbai||18 June 2009|
|Mariano Dias||Churchill Brothers||13 July 2012|
|Karim Bencherifa||Mohun Bagan||19 November 2012|
|Oscar Bruzon||Sporting Clube de Goa||3 December 2012|
|Thangboi Singto||Shillong Lajong||22 January 2013|
|Mike Snoei||Pune||12 May 2013|
|Derrick Pereira||Salgaocar||12 May 2013|
|Arthur Papas||Dempo||31 May 2013|
|Ashley Westwood||Bengaluru FC||2 July 2013|
|Armando Colaco||East Bengal||14 November 2013|
|Sanjoy Sen||Mohammedan||17 December 2013|
|Ananta Kumar Ghosh||United SC||15 February 2014|
|Herring Shangpliang||Rangdajied United||1 March 2014|
Stats and players
|1||Odafe Onyeka Okolie||142|
|7||Josimar da silva Martins||50|
|9||Ogba Kalu Nnanna||45|
|(Bold denotes players still playing in the I-League).|
|Season||Total Goals||Matches played||Average per Game|
Top goal scorers
Players in the I-League compete for Golden Boot award every season which is awarded to the player with the most I-League goals. Currently former Churchill Brothers and current Mohun Bagan player Odafe Onyeka Okolie holds the record for most golden boots with three. Odafe and Dempo player Ranty Martins Soleye are the only players to win the award. Odafe is also the top goal scorer in I-League history with a total of 119 goals.
Nigerian Ranty Martins has scored the most goals in a single season by scoring 32 goals during the 2011–12 season. Currently Ranty Martins holds the record for scoring the most goals in a match. He scored 6 goals when his team, Dempo beat Air India 14–0 on 30 May 2011. Incidentally, this was also the highest scoring match in the I-League.
|Year||Player||Club||Goals||Top Indian Player||Club||Goals|
|2007–08||Odafe Onyeka Okolie||Churchill Brothers||22||Baichung Bhutia||Mohun Bagan||10|
|2008–09||Odafe Onyeka Okolie||Churchill Brothers||26||Sunil Chhetri||East Bengal||9|
|2009–10||Odafe Onyeka Okolie||Churchill Brothers||21||Mohammed Rafi||Mahindra United||14|
|2010–11||Ranti Martins||Dempo||28||Jeje Lalpekhlua||Indian Arrows||13|
|2011–12||Ranti Martins||Dempo||32||Chinadorai Sabeeth / Manandeep Singh||Pailan Arrows||9|
|2012–13||Ranti Martins||Prayag United||26||C.K. Vineeth||Prayag United||7|
Indian Football Clubs in Asia
|Season||Team||Final Position||Team||Final Position|
|2008||Dempo||Semi-final (AFC Cup)||East Bengal||Group Stage (AFC Cup)|
|2009||Dempo||Round of 16 (AFC Cup)||Mohun Bagan||Group Stage (AFC Cup)|
|2010||Churchill Brothers||Round of 16 (AFC Cup)||East Bengal||Group Stage (AFC Cup)|
|2011||Dempo||Round of 16 (AFC Cup)||East Bengal||Group Stage (AFC Cup)|
|2012||Salgaocar||Group Stage (AFC Cup)||East Bengal||Group Stage (AFC Cup)|
|2013||Churchill Brothers||Group Stage (AFC Cup)||East Bengal||Semi-final (AFC Cup)|
Fan's Player of the Year
The Fan's Player of the Year is awarded to the player adjudged the best player that season in the I-League as selected by the fans.
AIFF I-League Foreign Player of the Year
The winner of this award is selected by the I-League coaches at the end of the season and is issued by the All India Football Federation.
|2012–13||Ranti Martins||Prayag United|
FPAI I-League Indian Player of the Year
|2011–12||Syed Nabi||Mohun Bagan|
|2012–13||Lenny Rodrigues||Churchill Brothers|
FPAI Young Player of the Year
|2010–11||Jeje Lalpekhlua||Indian Arrows|
|2011–12||Manandeep Singh||Air India|
|2012–13||Alwyn George||Pailan Arrows|
FPAI Coach of the Year
|2008–09||David Booth||Mahindra United|
|2011–12||Trevor Morgan||East Bengal|
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