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I-League

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Hero I-League
I-League logo.svg
Organising bodyAll India Football Federation (AIFF)
Founded1996; 26 years ago (1996) (as National Football League)
2007; 15 years ago (2007) (as I-League)
CountryIndia
ConfederationAFC
Number of teams13
Level on pyramid1 (currently)
2 (from 2022–23)
Promotion toIndian Super League (from 2022)[1]
Relegation toI-League 2nd Division
Domestic cup(s)Durand Cup
Super Cup
International cup(s)AFC Cup
Current championsGokulam Kerala (1st title)
Most championshipsDempo (3 titles)
Top goalscorerRanti Martins (214 goals)
TV partners1Sports (including Facebook live streaming)
Websitei-league.org
Current: 2021–22 I-League

The I-League (known as Hero I-League for sponsorship ties with Hero MotoCorp)[2] is a men's professional football league, which is one of two co-existing highest level leagues in Indian football system, along with the Indian Super League. It is currently contested by 13 clubs across the country.

The competition was founded in 2007 as the successor to the National Football League (NFL), with the first season starting in November 2007.[3] The league was launched as India's first ever professional football league with the aim to increase the player pool for the India national team.[3] I-League operates on a system of promotion and relegation with I-League 2nd division, based on State leagues results.[3] For the clubs that become I-League champions, they are granted the opportunity to participate in the AFC Cup, Asia's secondary international club competition.Until 2019-20 it was the only top division league of India. But after AFC approved Indian Super League as premier top division league in October 2019, I-League becames the official second-tier football league in Indian football league system.

Since the inception of the I-League, a total of seven clubs have been crowned champions. Dempo have won the most titles in league history, being crowned champions three times. Churchill Brothers, Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru have won the league twice. Salgaocar, Aizawl, Minerva Punjab, Chennai City and Gokulam Kerala have won it once.

History

Origins

In 1996, the first domestic league was started in India known as the National Football League.[4] The league was started in an effort to introduce professionalism to Indian football.[4] Despite that ambition, that not been achieved to this date. During the National Football League days, the league suffered from poor infrastructure and unprofessionalism from its clubs. One of the clubs in the league, FC Kochin, went defunct in 2002 after it was revealed that the club had not paid salaries since 2000 after running up 2.5 crores in losses a season.[5]

After a decade of decline with the National Football League, the All India Football Federation decided it was time for a change. This resulted in the modern day iteration of the top-tier in India.[6]

Formation

After the 2006–07 NFL season, it was announced that the National Football League would be relaunched and rebranded as the I-League for the 2007–08 season.[7] The league's first season consisted of eight teams from the previous NFL campaign and two teams from the 2nd Division to form a 10 team league.[7] Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), the title sponsors of the previous NFL, were named as the title sponsors of the I-League before the league kicked off in November 2007.[8] The league also announced a change in their foreign-player restrictions with the new rule being that all the clubs could sign four foreigners – three non-Asian and one which must be Asian.[9] The league also announced that, for the first season, matches will be broadcast on Zee Sports.[10]

The original ten clubs in the I-League's first season were Air India, Churchill Brothers, Dempo, East Bengal, JCT, Mahindra United, Mohun Bagan, Salgaocar, Sporting Goa, and Viva Kerala.

The early seasons (2007–2010)

The first ever I-League match took place on 24 November 2007 between Dempo and Salgaocar. The match, which took place at the Fatorda Stadium in Margao, ended 3–0 in favour of Dempo with Chidi Edeh scoring the first ever goal in league history in the third minute.[11] After eighteen rounds it was Dempo who came out as the first ever champions in the I-League.[12] Viva Kerala and Salgaocar, however, ended up as the first two teams to ever be relegated from the I-League.[13]

The next season the I-League was expanded from 10 to 12 teams. Mumbai, Chirag United, Mohammedan, and Vasco were all promoted from the I-League 2nd Division to make the expansion possible.[14] This however brought up early concerns over how "national" the I-League was. The 2008–09 season would see eleven of the twelve teams come from three different cities. The previous season saw all ten teams come from four different cities.[14] Bhaichung Bhutia, then captain of the Indian national team, said that it was the federations job to spread the game across the country and that it needed to happen.[14]

Regardless of the early criticism, the I-League went on as scheduled and once the 2008–09 season concluded. it was Churchill Brothers who came out on top.[15] Then, before the 2009–10 season, the league was once again expanded from 12 teams to 14. In order to make this happen Salgaocar, Viva Kerala, Pune, and Shillong Lajong were all promoted from the 2nd Division to the I-League.[16] This helped the I-League retain some criticism about how national the league was as now the league would be played in seven different cities/states: Goa, Kerala, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Punjab, and Shillong.[16]

After the 2009–10 season it was Dempo who came out on top for the second time in I-League history.[12]

Baljit Saini of JCT FC against Dempo SC during I-League 2008–09 at Guru Nanak Stadium Ludhiana.

Conflict of parties

On 9 December 2010 the All India Football Federation signed a 15-year, 700-crore deal with Reliance Industries and International Management Group of the United States.[17] The deal gave IMG-Reliance exclusive commercial rights to sponsorship, advertising, broadcasting, merchandising, video, franchising, and rights to create a new football league.[17] This deal came about after the AIFF ended their 10-year deal with Zee Sports five years early.[18]

Two months later, on 8 February 2011, it was reported that twelve of the fourteen I-League clubs held a private meeting in Mumbai to discuss the ongoing issues related to the league.[19] It was never revealed what was exactly talked about at this meeting.[19] Then, on 22 February, it was announced that the same twelve I-League clubs that attended the meeting would not be signing the AFC–licensing papers needed to play in the I-League.[20] The reasoning for this was because the I-League clubs were not happy over the fact that IMG-Reliance had so far done nothing to promote the I-League and that they demanded the I-League be made a separate entity from both the AIFF and IMG-Reliance.[20] At this time however there were rumours that IMG-Reliance had been planning on revamping the I-League along the same lines as Major League Soccer of the United States for the 2012–13 season.[20]

On 11 March 2012, following the disbanding of two former I-League clubs – JCT and Mahindra United, it was announced that the I-League clubs would be forming their own organization known as the Indian Professional Football Clubs Association (IPFCA) in order to safeguard their interest and promote football in India.[21] Every club, except for HAL and AIFF–owned Pailan Arrows, joined the newly formed organization.[21] Soon after, it was announced that there would be a meeting held between the AIFF, IMG-Reliance, and the IPFCA on 20 April 2012. In this meeting, IMG-Reliance would present their plan on how they would grow the I-League but the meeting never occurred for reasons unknown.[22]

Then, on 4 May 2012, the AIFF hosted the last ad hoc meeting – an annual meeting between the AFC and AIFF to assess the growth of Indian football. The AFC president at the time, Zhang Jilong, was also in attendance at this meeting.[23] It was reported that the IPFCA would use this meeting to voice their displeasure at the AIFF and IMG-Reliance but the association never showed up at the meeting.[23]

On 18 June 2012 the IPFCA was officially sanctioned under the Society's Act of 1960.[24]

League improvement

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu underwent trials at then Premier League side Wigan Athletic and finally signing for Stabæk Fotball in 2014.
Sunil Chhetri and Gouramangi Singh Indian highest paid footballer in I-League with a rumoured of Rs 1.2 Cr (or Rs 1.05 Cr)
Enrique Esqueda, highest paid footballer in I-League with Rs 4.2 Cr

Despite the ongoing war between the AIFF, IMG-Reliance, and the IPFCA, the league did manage to improve its product on the field and awareness did increase during this period. It all started when the India national team participated in the AFC Asian Cup in 2011 for the first time in 27 years.[25] Despite being knocked-out in the group stage after losing all three of their games, India came back home more popular than ever. Subrata Pal, of Pune gained the most popularity after his impressive performances in goal for India during the Asian Cup.[26] At the same time, before the Asian Cup, Sunil Chhetri became the second Indian footballer in the modern footballing era to move abroad when he signed for the Kansas City Wizards in Major League Soccer in 2010. He also became the first exported Indian from the I-League.[27]

The league was then given a major boost from its main derby, the Kolkata derby, between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. On 20 November 2011, 90,000 people watched at the Salt Lake Stadium as Mohun Bagan defeated East Bengal 1–0.[28] The league also saw more expansion to others areas with the promotion of United Sikkim from the 2nd Division,[29] however, their reign was short lived as financial troubles saw them relegated the next season.[30]

Meanwhile, while the league continued to grow, so did the players' demand. During this period plenty of Indian players were wanted on trial by foreign clubs, mainly in Europe. After his return from MLS, Sunil Chhetri and international teammate Jeje Lalpekhlua were called for trials at Scottish Premier League side Rangers in 2011.[31] Subrata Pal had trials at RB Leipzig before finally signing for Vestsjælland in 2014.[32] And Gurpreet Singh Sandhu underwent trials at then Premier League side Wigan Athletic and finally signing for Stabæk Fotball, Norway in 2014.[33]

At the same time, as Indian players demand abroad increased, the demand for higher quality foreigners in the I-League also increased. Former A-League player of the year and Costa Rican international Carlos Hernández signed with Prayag United before the 2012–13 season from the Melbourne Victory.[34] Lebanese international Bilal Najjarine also signed with Churchill Brothers in 2012.[35]

Champions

Successful clubs by seasons

Season Champions Runners-up Third place
2007–08 Dempo (1/3) Churchill Brothers JCT
2008–09 Churchill Brothers (1/2) Mohun Bagan Sporting Goa
2009–10 Dempo (2/3) Churchill Brothers Pune
2010–11 Salgaocar East Bengal Dempo
2011–12 Dempo (3/3) East Bengal Churchill Brothers
2012–13 Churchill Brothers (2/2) Pune East Bengal
2013–14 Bengaluru (1/2) East Bengal Salgaocar
2014–15 Mohun Bagan (1/2) Bengaluru Royal Wahingdoh
2015–16 Bengaluru (2/2) Mohun Bagan East Bengal
2016–17 Aizawl Mohun Bagan East Bengal
2017–18 Minerva Punjab NEROCA Mohun Bagan
2018–19 Chennai City East Bengal Real Kashmir
2019–20 Mohun Bagan (2/2) Not Awarded[a]
2020–21 Gokulam Kerala Churchill Brothers TRAU
Notes
  1. ^ Matches after 14 March 2020 were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mohun Bagan were declared the champions having huge point difference between the second placed club and no runners-up were announced as remaining clubs were very closely placed in the points table.[36]

Performance by clubs

Club Titles Runners-up Third place Winning seasons Runners-up seasons Third place seasons
Dempo 3 0 1 2007–08, 2009–10, 2011–12 2010–11
Mohun Bagan 2 3 1 2014–15, 2019–20 2008–09, 2015–16, 2016–17 2017–18
Churchill Brothers 2 3 1 2008–09, 2012–13 2007–08, 2009–10,

2020–21

2011–12
Bengaluru 2 1 0 2013-14, 2015–16 2014–15
Salgaocar 1 0 1 2010–11 2013–14
Aizawl 1 0 0 2016–17
Punjab 1 0 0 2017–18
Chennai City 1 0 0 2018–19
Gokulam Kerala 1 0 0 2020–21
East Bengal 0 4 3 2010–11, 2011–12, 2013–14,

2018–19

2012–13, 2015–16, 2016–17
Pune 0 1 1 2012–13 2009–10
NEROCA 0 1 0 2017–18
JCT 0 0 1 2007–08
Sporting Goa 0 0 1 2008–09
Royal Wahingdoh 0 0 1 2014–15
Real Kashmir 0 0 1 2018–19
TRAU 0 0 1 2020–21

All-time table

The following is a list of clubs who have played in the I-League at any time since its formation in 2007 to the current season. Teams playing in the 2021-22 I-League season are indicated in bold. A total of 36 teams have played in the I-League.

As of November 2021

Pos. Team S P W D L GF GA GD Pts 1st 2nd 3rd 1st App Last / Recent app Highest finish
1 Mohun Bagan 13 276 126 85 65 430 301 129 463

[37]

2 3 1 2007–08 2019–20 1st
2 East Bengal 13 276 126 75 75 425 282 143 453 0 4 3 2007–08 2019–20 2nd
3 Churchill Brothers 11 239 112 67 60 426 292 134 403 2 3 1 2007–08 2020–21 1st
4 Dempo 8 188 90 52 46 337 209 128 322 3 0 1 2007–08 2014–15 1st
5 Salgaocar 8 182 70 46 66 258 229 29 256 1 0 1 2007–08 2015–16 1st
6 Sporting Goa 8 178 62 57 59 241 249 -8 243 0 0 1 2007–08 2015–16 3rd
7 Pune 6 148 63 45 40 219 168 51 234 0 1 1 2009–10 2014–15 2nd
8 Mumbai 9 204 53 72 79 219 281 -62 231 0 0 0 2008–09 2016–17 5th
9 Shillong Lajong 9 194 53 56 85 220 316 -96 215 0 0 0 2009–10 2018–19 5th
10 United 6 150 48 55 47 202 200 2 199 0 0 0 2008–09 2013–14 4th
11 Bengaluru 4 78 42 20 16 131 79 52 146 2 1 0 2013–14 2016–17 1st
12 Air India 6 144 33 45 66 142 249 -107 144 0 0 0 2007–08 2012–13 8th
13 Aizawl 6 101 37 30 34 125 112 13 141 1 0 0 2015–16 2020–21 1st
14 Indian Arrows 7 144 30 33 81 123 241 -118 123 0 0 0 2010–11 2020–21 8th
15 JCT 4 92 29 27 36 93 100 -7 114 0 0 1 2007–08 2010–11 3rd
16 Chennai City 5 85 31 21 33 112 126 -14 114 1 0 0 2016–17 2020–21 1st
17 Punjab 5 87 28 27 32 92 104 -12 111 1 0 0 2016–17 2020–21 1st
18 Mahindra United 3 66 25 25 16 97 69 28 100 0 0 0 2007–08 2009–10 4th
19 Chirag United Club Kerala 4 96 22 23 51 96 160 -64 89 0 0 0 2007–08 2011–12 9th
20 Gokulam Kerala 4 68 24 17 27 93 92 1 89 1 0 0 2017–18 2020–21 1st
21 NEROCA 4 68 23 15 30 86 94 -8 84 0 1 0 2017–18 2020–21 2nd
22 Real Kashmir 3 50 21 17 12 64 46 18 80 0 0 1 2018–19 2020–21 3rd
23 Mohammedan 3 61 16 18 27 62 86 -24 66 0 0 0 2008–09 2020–21 7th
24 ONGC 2 52 12 19 21 55 76 -21 55 0 0 0 2010–11 2012–13 9th
25 TRAU 2 32 13 9 10 44 46 -2 48 0 0 1 2019–20 2020–21 3rd
26 DSK Shivajians 2 34 7 12 15 38 55 -17 33 0 0 0 2015–16 2016–17 7th
27 HAL 2 52 7 11 34 37 108 -71 32 0 0 0 2010–11 2011–12 12th
28 Royal Wahingdoh 1 20 8 6 6 27 27 0 30 0 0 1 2014–15 2014–15 3rd
29 Rangdajied United 1 24 6 7 11 29 38 -9 25 0 0 0 2013–14 2013–14 11th
30 Sudeva Delhi 1 14 5 3 6 16 14 2 18 0 0 0 2020–21 2020–21 8th
31 Bharat 1 20 4 6 10 13 28 -15 18 0 0 0 2014–15 2014–15 11th
32 United Sikkim 1 26 2 9 15 23 63 -40 15 0 0 0 2012–13 2012–13 14th
33 Vasco 1 22 2 4 16 14 49 -35 10 0 0 0 2008–09 2008–09 12th
34 Sreenidi Deccan 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2021–22 2021–22 -
35 Kenkre 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2021–22 2021–22 -
36 Rajasthan United 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2021–22 2021–22 -
I League
State leagues
Indian Super League
Defunct clubs

Rivalries

There are several key rivalries and local derbies that have formed in the I-League, including:

Kolkata Derby
Goa Derby
Northeast Derby
South Indian Derby
Imphal Derby

Competition format

Competition

Since the league began in 2007 the rules of the league have changed almost yearly. Currently, the league has 11 teams. Each club played each other twice during the season, once at home and the other away from home. The team that wins a match receives three points while both teams earn point if they draw. A loser is not awarded any points. At the end of the season, the team with the most points wins the league. In the case of a tie then head to head record is looked upon. further, in the case of a tie, the goal difference is looked upon of the tied teams.[38]

AFC qualification

Clubs from the I-League primarily participate internationally in the AFC Cup, however, some I-League clubs have had the chance to qualify for the AFC Champions League. From 2007 to 2011 champions of the previous I-League season were allowed to play Champions League qualifiers.[39] Then, from 2011 to 2013, no I-League club played in a qualifier till Pune in 2014, after club passed the AFC Licensing criteria.[40] However, no I-League club has actually qualified for the AFC Champions League group stage.

Sponsorship

Since the original National Football League, the Indian league has always been sponsored. When the I-League began in 2007 the last sponsor from the old National Football League, ONGC, were brought in as the sponsors, making the league be known as the ONGC I-League.[41] However, after the 2010–11 season, the deal with ONGC was not renewed and the I-League was left without a sponsorship deal till 2013.[42] On 24 September 2013, it was announced that telecommunications company, Airtel would be the new title sponsor of the I-League, thus making the league known as the Airtel I-League.[43] In December 2014, it was announced that Hero MotoCorp would replace Airtel as the title sponsor for the league and hence the league would be known has Hero I-League.[44]

Period Sponsor Industry Tournament
2007–11 India ONGC Petroleum ONGC I-League
2011–13 none N/A I-League
2013–14 India Airtel Telecommunications Airtel I-League
2014–present India Hero Automotive Hero I-League

Media coverage

Since 2007 the I-League has managed to find a way to be telecast, which is drastic in increasing the profile and popularity of the league. Before the inaugural 2007–08 season, the All India Football Federation reached a deal with Zee Sports to broadcast 45 of the 90 matches that season with TEN Sports broadcasting 15 matches in the inaugural season.[45] The deal with Zee Sports was a continuation of the 10-year deal reached between the AIFF and Zee Sports in 2005.[46] However, in October 2009, Zee Sports reportedly sent a letter to the AIFF asking for the Federation to review the 10-year contract after concerns were raised by the broadcaster that the league was not attracting as many sponsors as they would have liked.[46] In August 2010 it was revealed that there were crunch talks between the AIFF and Zee Sports over these concerns and that there was a provision in the 10-year deal that said it could be reviewed after the first five years.[47] AIFF has signed a three-year deal with Lex Sportel Vision Pvt. Ltd. to broadcast the I-League on DSport starting 2019–20 season. The 13th edition of I-League is scheduled to commence from 30 November, featuring 11 teams and 110 matches. Separately, AIFF has commissioned Instat Limited – an Ireland-based company to produce feed of the live audio-visual coverage for the broadcast on DSport. Instat will produce all games with an 8-camera setup. AIFF's agreement with Instat Limited will run for three years. I-League for past two seasons was showcased on Star Sports. However, as per the request of the I-League clubs, the AIFF and FSDL (Football Sports Development Limited) negotiated the deal with the new broadcast partner providing exclusive rights for on-air and digital content.[48][49]

Period TV telecast Online streaming
2007–2010 Zee Sports
2010–2017 Ten Action, Ten Sports DittoTV
2017–2019 Star Sports 2 & Star Sports 3 Hotstar, Jio TV
2019– 1Sports Facebook, FanCode

Local broadcasters

Language TV telecast
Bengali Kolkata TV
Malayalam Twentyfour News

Criticisms

Financial situation

One of the major criticisms of the I-League has been the league's continuing financial instability.[50] Since the league began in 2007 the league has seen four clubs disband their operations – Chirag United Kerala, JCT, Mahindra United, and Pailan Arrows.[51][52] When JCT disbanded, head of operations, Samir Thapar stated that the lack of any credible exposure and money as a major reason for JCT disbanding.[50] The majority of clubs in the league rely on main sponsors the fund the team through a season at least. This is mainly due to the fact that clubs in the I-League do not rely on income from merchandise sales or ticket sales and that television revenue goes directly to the All India Football Federation instead of the clubs.[50]

Currently, attendance in the I-League is suffering as the 2013–14 season only averaged 5,618 per game.[53] Mohun Bagan averaged the most spectators that season with an average of 17,068 while Shillong Lajong ended up being the only other I-League club to finish with an average attendance over 10,000 when the finished at 11,308 per game.[53] Part of the reason for these attendances other than the lack of marketing has been cited as being the fact that most I-League matches start in the afternoon, when it is uncomfortably hot for fans, rather than during the cooler evenings.[54]

Institutional football

Many football clubs in India are what termed as institutional teams, in other words controlled or owned by an industrial business.[55] That means it is difficult for players or coaches to turn into complete professionals.[55] The players who play for institutional teams would also work on a full-time job outside the game for his company the team was owned by.[55] This is much the same model which was found in Japan before the introduction of the J. League.[56] The positives are that the teams are usually well resourced with players earning decent money and the reassuring prospect of employment after their footballing days finish.[55] On the negative side, teams only effectively represent an individual business with a few thousand workers, rather than whole cities, and thus do not gain broad general support.[55]

On 21 February 2014 it was officially announced that the two remaining institutional clubs in the I-League – Air India and ONGC – had been expelled from the I-League and that all other institutional clubs would not be allowed to participate in the league.[57]

Clubs

36 clubs have played in the I-League from its inception since 2007, up to the current season (including the 2021–22 season). Currently I-League is played among 13 clubs.

Current clubs
Club City/State/UT Stadium Capacity Owners Founded Joined Seasons in IL Best finish Worst finish
Aizawl Aizawl, Mizoram Rajiv Gandhi Stadium 20,000 Robert Romawia Royte 1984 2015 2012– 1st, 2016–17 8th, 2015–16
Churchill Brothers Margao, Goa Fatorda Stadium 19,000 Churchill Alemao 1988 2016 2007–14, 2016– 1st, 2008–09, 2012–13 8th, 2013–14
Gokulam Kerala Kozhikode, Kerala Kozhikode EMS Stadium 80,000 Sree Gokulam Group 2017 2017 2017– 1st, 2020–21 9th, 2018–19
Indian Arrows Bhubaneswar, Odisha Kalinga Stadium 15,000 All India Football Federation 2010 (as AIFF XI) 2017 2010–13, 2017– 8th, 2011–12 13th, 2017–18
Kenkre Mumbai, Maharashtra Cooperage Ground 24,000 Adib Krishna Sinai 2000 2021 2021– Debutant Debutant
Mohammedan Kolkata, West Bengal Mohammedan Sporting Ground 22,000 Mohammedan Sporting Club Pvt. Ltd.(50%) and

Bunkerhill Pvt. Ltd.(50%)

1891 2020 2008–09, 2013–14, 2020– 6th, 2020–21 13th, 2013–14
NEROCA Imphal, Manipur Khuman Lampak Main Stadium 35,285 NEROCA Football Club Pvt. Ltd. 1965 2017 2015– 2nd, 2017–18 6th, 2018–19
Punjab Ludhiana, Punjab Guru Nanak Stadium 30,000 RoundGlass Sports 2005 (as Minerva Academy FC) 2016 2015– 1st, 2017–18 9th, 2016–17, 2018–19
Rajasthan United Bhilwara, Rajasthan Rajasthan University Sports Complex 6,000 RUFC Sports Private Limited 2018 (as JECRC CF) 2021 2021– Debutant Debutant
Real Kashmir Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir TRC Turf Ground 11,000 Shamim Mehraj and Sandeep Chattoo 2016 2018 2018– 3rd, 2018–19 3rd, 2018–19
Sreenidi Deccan Vizag, Andhra Pradesh [yet to announce] [yet to announce] Sreenidhi Group 2015 2021 2021– Debutant Debutant
Sudeva Delhi New Delhi, Delhi Dr. Ambedkar Stadium[58] 30,000 Anuj Gupta and Vijay Hakari[59] 2014 2020 2020 8th, 2020–21 8th, 2020–21
TRAU Imphal, Manipur Khuman Lampak Main Stadium 35,285 TRAU Football Club Pvt. Ltd. 1954 2019 2017– 3rd, 2020–21 3rd, 2020–21
Home stadiums of current clubs
Aizawl Churchill Brothers Gokulam Kerala Indian Arrows Kenkre Mohammedan NEROCA
Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Aizawl Fatorda Stadium, Margao EMS Stadium, Kozikode Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar Cooperage Ground, Mumbai[60] Mohammedan Sporting Ground, Kolkata Khuman Lampak Main Stadium, Imphal
Capacity: 20,000 Capacity: 19,000 Capacity: 80,000 Capacity: 15,000 Capacity: 5,000 Capacity: 22,000 Capacity: 35,285
Rajiv Gandhi Stadium.jpg Fatorda Stadium, Goa.jpg Kozhikode EMS Stadium.jpg Kalinga Stadium during ISL.jpg Howrah Stadium.jpg Khuman Lampak Main Stadium.jpg
Punjab Rajasthan United Real Kashmir Sudeva Delhi Sreenidi Deccan TRAU
Guru Nanak stadium, Ludhiana Rajasthan University Sports Complex,

Jaipur[61]

TRC Turf Ground, Srinagar Dr. Ambedkar Stadium, New Delhi [yet to announce] Khuman Lampak Main Stadium, Imphal
Capacity: 30,000 Capacity: 6,000 Capacity: 11,000 Capacity: 30,000 Capacity: 35,285
GURU NANAK STADIUM AT LUDHIANA.jpg Ambedkar stadium in delhi at morning.jpg Khuman Lampak Main Stadium.jpg
Former clubs
Club City/State Seasons in I-League Best finish Worst finish Current league
Chennai City Chennai 2016 to 2021 1st, 2018–19 8th, 2016–17, 2017–18 Chennai Football Senior Division
Shillong Lajong Shillong 2009 to 2019 5th, 2016–17 14th, 2009–10 Shillong Premier League
Dempo Panjim 2007 to 2015 1st, 2007–08,2009–10, 2011–12 10th, 2014–15 Goa Professional League
Salgaocar Vasco 2007 to 2008, 2009 to 2016 1st, 2010–11 10th, 2007–08 Goa Professional League
Bengaluru Bengaluru 2013 to 2017 1st, 2013–14, 2015–16 4th, 2016–17 Indian Super League
United Kolkata 2008 to 2014 4th, 2012–13 10th, 2012–14 Calcutta Premier Division B
Sporting Clube de Goa Panaji 2007 to 2010, 2011 to 2016 3rd, 2008–09 13th, 2009–10 Goa Professional League
Pune Pune 2009 to 2015 2nd, 2012–13 7th, 2013–14 Defunct
Royal Wahingdoh Shillong 2014 to 2015 3rd, 2014–15 3rd, 2014–15 Defunct
Air India Mumbai 2007 to 2013 8th, 2007–08 13th, 2012–13 Mumbai Football League
Rangdajied United Shillong 2013 to 2014 10th, 2013–14 10th, 2013–14 Shillong Premier League
Vasco Vasco da Gama, Goa 2008 to 2009 12th, 2008–09 12th, 2008–09 Goa Professional League
DSK Shivajians Pune 2015 to 2017 7th, 2016–17 9th, 2015–16 Defunct
ONGC Mumbai 2010 to 2011, 2012 to 2013 9th, 2012–13 14th, 2010–11 Mumbai Football League
HAL Bengaluru 2010 to 2012 12th, 2010–11 14th, 2011–12 Bangalore Super Division
East Bengal Kolkata 2007 to 2020 2nd, 2010–11,2011–12,2013–14,2018–19 9th, 2009–10 Indian Super League
Mohun Bagan Kolkata 2007 to 2020 1st, 2014–15, 2019–20 10th, 2012–13 Indian Super League

(as ATK Mohun Bagan)

JCT Hoshiarpur 2007 to 2011 3rd, 2007–08 13th, 2010–11 Defunct
United Sikkim Gangtok 2012 to 2013 14th, 2012–13 14th, 2012–13 Sikkim Premier Division League
Mumbai Mumbai 2007 to 2017 5th, 2015–16 11th, 2009–10, 2012-12 Defunct
Mahindra United Mumbai 2007 to 2010 4th, 2009–10 5th, 2007–08, 2008–09 Defunct
Viva Kerala Kochi 2007 to 2008, 2009 to 2012 9th, 2008–09 12th, 2011–12 Defunct
Bharat Mumbai 2014 to 2015 11th, 2014–15 11th, 2014–15 Defunct

Head coaches

The role of the head coach in the I-League varies from club to club. Some clubs in the I-League like to appoint technical directors as well as head coaches and the technical directors for the most part are given the power the select the squad and sometimes the entire team management.[62] The All India Football Federation does impose licensing requirements for head coaches in the I-League, the rule being that the head coach must have an AFC A-License in order to coach in the I-League, however, some clubs and coaches like Subhash Bhowmick, Subrata Bhattacharya, Sukhwinder Singh, and Bimal Ghosh are known for accepting a technical directors role in order to bypass the head coaching requirements without an A-License.[62] This has bought about a lot of controversial news in the I-League, most recently being when Churchill Brothers won the I-League after the 2012–13 season with Subhash Bhowmick running the entire team on and off the field but not winning the "Coach of the Year" award due to being listed as the technical director and not the head coach.[62]

Seeing this, the AIFF technical director, Rob Baan, as well as others, advocated that the federation make it mandatory for both technical directors and head coaches to have an AFC A-License.[62] On 14 May 2014 this was officially put into act by the AIFF during their I-League licensing committee meeting.[63]

In terms of coaching performance, after the first seven seasons of the I-League, an Indian head coach has won the I-League four times while a foreign head coach has won it three times. Zoran Đorđević of Serbia was the first ever foreign head coach to win the I-League.[64][65] Italian coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese was the most recent foreign coach to win the I-League in the 2020–21 season.

Armando Colaco was the first Indian coach to win the I-League in the league's opening season and he has the most I-League championships at three.[66] Khogen Singh is the latest Indian coach to win the I-League in 2017–18 season.[67]

Current head coaches in the I-League
Nat. Name Club Appointed Time in charge
Scotland David Robertson Real Kashmir 2 January 2017 5 years, 22 days
India Shanmugam Venkatesh Indian Arrows 29 November 2019 2 years, 56 days
India L.Nandakumar Singh TRAU 27 January 2020 1 year, 362 days
Italy Vincenzo Alberto Annese Gokulam Kerala 9 August 2020 1 year, 168 days
India Mehrajuddin Wadoo (caretaker manager) Sudeva Delhi 13 November 2021 72 days
Romania Petre Gigiu Churchill Brothers 20 June 2021 218 days
Russia Andrey Chernyshov Mohammedan 21 May 2021 248 days
India Akhil Kothari Kenkre 1 June 2021 237 days
India Yan Law Aizawl 19 January 2021 1 year, 5 days
Spain Fernando Santiago Varela Sreenidi Deccan 20 April 2021 279 days
India Khogen Singh NEROCA 3 July 2021 205 days
England Ashley Westwood Punjab 15 July 2021 193 days
Spain Fransesc Bonet Rajasthan United 3 December 2021 52 days
The torso and head of a grey-haired white man in a football stadium. He is wearing spectacles and a black coat.
Former Dempo manager Armando Colaco was the longest serving and most successful manager in the history of the I League.
Winning head coaches
Head coach Wins Winning year(s) Team
India Armando Colaco 3 2007–08

2009–10 2011–12

Dempo
England Ashley Westwood 2 2013–14

2015–16

Bengaluru
Spain Kibu Vicuña 1 2019–20 Mohun Bagan
Italy Vincenzo Alberto Annese 2020-21 Gokulam Kerala
Singapore Akbar Nawas 2018-19 Chennai City
India Khogen Singh 2017–18 Punjab
India Khalid Jamil 2016–17 Aizawl
India Sanjoy Sen 2014–15 Mohun Bagan
India Mariano Dias 2012–13 Churchill Brothers
Morocco Karim Bencherifa 2010–11 Salgaocar
Serbia Zoran Đorđević 2008–09 Churchill Brothers

Player transfer fees

Top transfer fees paid by I-League clubs

Rank Player Fee (min) Year Transfer Out Transfer In Reference
1 Nigeria Uga Okpara 7 crore (US$930,000) 2009 Nigeria Enyimba India East Bengal
2 Nigeria Odafa Onyeka Okolie 3 crore (US$400,000) 2011 India Mohun Bagan India Churchill Brothers
3 India Lester Fernandez 20 lakh (US$27,000) 2012 India Pune India Prayag United
4 India Ronaldo Oliveira 10 lakh (US$13,000) 2019 India Salgaocar India East Bengal

Top transfer fees received by I-League clubs

Rank Player Fee (min) Year Transfer Out Transfer In Reference
1 Uganda Khalid Aucho 4 crore (US$530,000) 2019 India Churchill Brothers Egypt Misr Lel Makkasa
2 India Sunil Chhetri 1.14 crore (US$150,000) 2014 India Bengaluru India Mumbai City
3 Spain Pedro Manzi 1 crore (US$130,000) 2020 India Chennai City Japan Albirex Niigata
4 India Eugeneson Lyngdoh 90 lakh (US$120,000) 2014 India Bengaluru India Pune City

Individual game highest attendance records

Rank Home team Score Away team Attendance Stadium Date
1 Mohun Bagan 1–0 East Bengal 90,000 Salt Lake Stadium 20 November 2011
2 Mohun Bagan 0–1 East Bengal 80,000 Salt Lake Stadium 24 November 2013
3 Mohun Bagan 2–1 East Bengal 63,756 Salt lake Stadium

19 January 2020

4 Mohun Bagan 1–1 East Bengal 63,342 Salt Lake Stadium 26 January 2016
5 Mohun Bagan 1–0 East Bengal 57,780 Salt Lake Stadium 28 March 2015

Stats and players

Seasonal statistics

Season Total goals Matches played Average per game
2007–08 226 90 2.51[68]
2008–09 318 132 2.41[69]
2009–10 486 182 2.67[70]
2010–11 489 182 2.69[71]
2011–12 521 182 2.88[72]
2012–13 530 182 2.91[73]
2013–14 402 156 2.47[74]
2014–15 280 110 2.55[75]
2015–16 186 72 2.58[76]
2016–17 225 90 2.5[77]
2017–18 204 90 2.27[78]
2018–19 303 109 2.78
2019–20 187 69[a] 2.71
2020–21 216 80 2.7

Top scorers

Season after season, players in the I-League compete for the golden boot title, which is awarded at the end of each season to the top scorer throughout the entire season. The most recent winner of the golden boot is Bidyashagar Singh, who won the golden boot at the end of the 2020–21 season after scoring 12 goals. Ranti Martins is both currently the holders of the most golden boot titles with five golden boots. Along with Odafa Onyeka Okolie, the two Nigerians make up the eight golden boots won by Nigerians, the most of any nationality in the league.

I-League Golden Boot winners
Season Player Club Goals Ref(s)
2007–08 Nigeria Odafe Onyeka Okolie Churchill Brothers 22 [79]
2008–09 Nigeria Odafe Onyeka Okolie Churchill Brothers 26 [79]
2009–10 Nigeria Odafe Onyeka Okolie Churchill Brothers 22 [79]
2010–11 Nigeria Ranti Martins Dempo 30 [79]
2011–12 Nigeria Ranti Martins Dempo 32 [80]
2012–13 Nigeria Ranti Martins Prayag United 27 [81]
2013–14 India Sunil Chhetri Bengaluru FC 14 [82]
Scotland Darryl Duffy Salgaocar
Trinidad and Tobago Cornell Glen Shillong Lajong
2014–15 Nigeria Ranti Martins East Bengal 17 [75]
2015–16 Nigeria Ranti Martins East Bengal 12 [76]
2016–17 Cameroon Aser Pierrick Dipanda Shillong Lajong 11 [77]
2017–18 Cameroon Aser Pierrick Dipanda Mohun Bagan 13 [78]
2018–19 Spain Pedro Manzi Chennai City FC 21 [83]
Trinidad and Tobago Willis Plaza Churchill Brothers S.C.
2019–20 N/A Not Awarded[a]
2020–21 India Bidyashagar Singh TRAU FC 12 [84]
Indian top scorers
Season Player Club Goals Ref(s)
2007–08 Bhaichung Bhutia Mohun Bagan 9 [85]
2008–09 Sunil Chhetri East Bengal 9 [85]
2009–10 Mohammed Rafi Mahindra United 13 [85]
2010–11 Jeje Lalpekhlua Indian Arrows 13 [85]
2011–12 Chinadorai Sabeeth Pailan Arrows 9 [85]
2012–13 C. K. Vineeth Prayag United 7 [85]
2013–14 Sunil Chhetri Bengaluru 14 [74]
2014–15 Thongkhosiem Haokip Pune 7 [75]
2015–16 Sunil Chhetri Bengaluru 5 [76]
Sushil Kumar Singh Mumbai
2016–17 Sunil Chettri Bengaluru 7 [77]
C. K. Vineeth Bengaluru
2017–18 Abhijit Sarkar Indian Arrows 4 [78]
Subhash Singh NEROCA
2018–19 Jobby Justin East Bengal 9 [86]
2019–20 N/A Not Awarded[a]
2020–21 Bidyashagar Singh TRAU 12 [84]
  1. ^ a b c Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the league was suspended after 14 March 2020. Only champions were awarded and remaining prize money in the league was equally divided among the remaining participating clubs and no individual prize money was also not awarded.[36] However, Aser Pierrick Dipanda of Minerva Punjab scored the highest number of goals, having scored 12 goals in 15 matches; whereas, Rochharzela of Aizawl scored 6 goals in 15 matches, highest among Indians.[87]

Awards

The trophy

The I-League has only been awarding a proper trophy to the champion since 2013 when the 2012–13 season champions, Churchill Brothers, won the league.[88] Before 2013 the I-League champions received a basic trophy.[88] The new trophy was designed in Europe and is modeled along the lines of the champion trophies in the top European leagues.[88] Regarding the trophy, the AIFF general secretary, Kushal Das, said "It is the endeavour of AIFF to practice the best principles of other leagues and accordingly we thought to create a more contemporary look to the I-League trophy in line with trophies given in European leagues".[88]

Season awards

End of season I-League awards were previously conducted by the Football Players' Association of India and All India Football Federation since 2008–09 season. Currently the awards include the Hero of the league, the golden boot, the golden glove, the best head coach (Syed Abdul Rahim Award), the best defender (Jarnail Singh Award), the best midfielder and the emerging player of the league, all of which are sponsored by Hero.

Hero of the League

Season Player Team
2016–17 India Sunil Chhetri Bengaluru
2018–19 Spain Pedro Manzi Chennai City
2020–21 India Bidyashagar Singh TRAU

Syed Abdul Rahim Award

Season Head coach Team
2008–09[89] England Dave Booth Mumbai
2009–10[90] India Armando Colaco Dempo
2010–11[91] Morocco Karim Bencherifa Salgaocar
2011–12[92] England Trevor Morgan East Bengal
2012–13[93] India Derrick Pereira Pune
2013–14[94] England Ashley Westwood Bengaluru
2014–15 India Sanjoy Sen Mohun Bagan
2015–16 England Ashley Westwood Bengaluru
2016–17 India Khalid Jamil Aizawl
2017–18[95] India Gift Raikhan NEROCA
2018–19[96] Singapore Akbar Nawas Chennai City
2020–21[84] India L. Nandakumar Singh TRAU

Emerging Player of the Season

Season Player Position Team
2008–09[89] India Baljit Sahni Forward JCT
2009–10[90] India Joaquim Abranches Forward Dempo
2010–11[91] India Jeje Lalpekhlua Forward Pailan Arrows
2011–12[92] India Manandeep Singh Forward Pailan Arrows
2012–13[93] India Alwyn George Midfielder Pailan Arrows
2013–14[94] India Alwyn George Midfielder Dempo
2015–16 India Udanta Singh Winger Bengaluru
2016–17 India Jerry Lalrinzuala Left Back DSK Shivajians
2017–18[95] India Samuel Lalmuanpuia Midfielder Shillong Lajong
2018–19[97] India Phrangi Buam Midfielder Shillong Lajong
2020–21[84] India Emil Benny Forward Gokulam Kerala

Foreign Player of the Year

Season Player Position Team
2008–09[89] Nigeria Odafe Onyeka Okolie Forward Churchill Brothers
2009–10[90] Nigeria Odafe Onyeka Okolie Forward Churchill Brothers
2010–11[91] Brazil Beto Midfielder Dempo
2011–12[98] Nigeria Ranti Martins Forward Dempo
2012–13[93] Nigeria Ranti Martins Forward Prayag United
2013–14[94] Scotland Darryl Duffy Forward Salgaocar

Indian Player of the Season

Season Player Position Team
2008–09[89] India Sunil Chhetri Forward East Bengal
2009–10[90] India Mohammed Rafi Forward Mahindra United
2010–11[91] India Mehtab Hossain Midfielder East Bengal
2011–12[92] India Syed Nabi Defender Mohun Bagan
2012–13[93] India Lenny Rodrigues Midfielder Churchill Brothers
2013–14[94] India Balwant Singh Forward Churchill Brothers

Fans' Player of the Year

Season Player Position Team
2008–09[99] Nigeria Odafe Onyeka Okolie Forward Churchill Brothers
2009–10[90] India Subrata Pal Goalkeeper Pune
2010–11[91] India Mehtab Hossain Midfielder East Bengal
2011–12[92] India Francis Fernandes Midfielder Salgaocar
2012–13[93] Afghanistan Zohib Islam Amiri Defender Mumbai
2013–14[94] India Boithang Haokip Midfielder Shillong Lajong

Prizes

Prize money

As of 28 February 2018
Position Purse
Champions 1 crore
1st Runners-up 60 Lakhs
2nd Runners-up 40 Lakhs
Fourth 25 Lakhs
Matchday Subsidy 1 Lakh
Match winner 50 Thousand
Hero of the Match 25 Thousand

I-League clubs in Asia

Traditionally, I-League clubs have done particularly well in the AFC Cup. In 2008 Dempo managed to reach the semi-finals of the AFC Cup before being defeated by Al-Safa of Lebanon.[100] East Bengal also managed to reach the semi-finals in 2013 before being knocked-out by Kuwait.[101] Bengaluru is the only I-League club to reach the AFC Cup Final in 2016 but lost to Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya of Iraq.[102]

In the AFC Champions League however, no I-League club has ever managed to make it past the qualifiers.[103]

Season AFC Cup Position AFC Champions League Position
2008–09 Mohun Bagan 4th in Group Stage Dempo Qualifiers
Dempo Semi-Final
2009–10 East Bengal 4th in Group Stage Churchill Brothers Qualifiers
Churchill Brothers Round of 16
2010–11 East Bengal 4th in Group Stage Dempo Qualifiers
Dempo Round of 16
2011–12 East Bengal 4th in Group Stage Salgaocar DNP
Salgaocar 4th in Group Stage
2012–13 East Bengal Semi-Final Churchill Brothers DNP
Churchill Brothers 3rd in Group Stag
2013–14 Churchill Brothers Round of 16 Pune Qualifiers
Pune 4th in Group Stage
2014–15 Bengaluru Round of 16 Bengaluru Preliminary Round 1
East Bengal 3rd in Group Stage
2015–16 Mohun Bagan Round of 16 Mohun Bagan Preliminary Round 2
Bengaluru Runner-up
2016–17 Bengaluru Interzonal finals Bengaluru Preliminary Round 2
Mohun Bagan Group stage
2017–18 Aizawl 4th in Group Stage Aizawl Play-off round
Bengaluru Interzonal semifinals
2018–19 Minerva Punjab 3rd in Group Stage Minerva Punjab Preliminary Round 2
2019–20 Chennai City Cancelled Chennai City Preliminary Round 1
2021–22 Gokulam Kerala TBD

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External links