For Pan-India I-League, Need Teams From Jammu and Kashmir, Andaman: Sunil Chhetri
Last year, the I-League was played among 11 teams and out of those, three clubs pulled out while one (Dempo) has been relegated. With two new entrants, the I-League 2015-16 would be competed among just nine clubs this season.
It's no secret that I-League is a poor second cousin of the cash-rich Indian Super League but Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri urges AIFF to have a "Pan-Indian touch" by having clubs ranging from Jammu and Kashmir to Andaman & Nicobar islands for the tourney. (Click here for latest Football stories)
"I would eventually want to see I-League evolve into a pan-India tournament. You want one league for the whole nation maybe with more than 17 teams catering to about every state," the leading Indian goal scorer told PTI in an exclusive interview ahead of the I-League launch ceremony in Bengaluru on Wednesday.
"I would love to see a team from Jammu and Kashmir, Andaman, Kerala, Chennai, make it a pan-India presence," the highest international goal-scorer for India said.
Quite predictably, he refused to comment on whether the much talked about merger of ISL and I-League is possible or not.
"ISL and I-League are two two different tournaments. I-League is improving every year with a lot of Indian talents and a good mix of foreign players. It's very competitive."
'I-League clubs need to promote themselves'
Last year, the I-League was played among 11 teams and out of those, three clubs -- Pune FC, Bharat FC and Royal Wahingdoh -- have pulled out while one (Dempo) has been relegated.
With new entrants, DSK-Shivajians and Aizawl FC, the I-League 2015-16 would be competed among just nine clubs.
Citing example of the Shillong Lajong FC, the iconic footballer said the I-League clubs should look at the northeast club's model.
"We've to promote I-League. It's important for all the clubs to promote their own clubs. Look at Lajong, they do really well in getting the crowd into the stadium.
"At Bengaluru FC, we improve our fan base every year. There's also no problem of getting crowd for Mohun Bagan and East Bengal...
"It's only in Goa where we face a problem and it depends on the club and AIFF to evolve a marketing strategy for the Goan teams."
Bengaluru FC confident ahead of I-League season
The Bengaluru FC captain said they're looking forward to the I-League where they finished runners-up last season and emerged champions as debutants in 2013-14.
"We've had a great pre-season (with SAFF Cup triumph and ISL exposure) that will give us a great platform. We have been playing for last three months. I hope everyone is fresh."
Speaking highly of his team who have eight new faces including three youngsters from India U-19 squad, he said: "We've the likes of Alwyn George, Kim Song Yong, Len Doungel, Amrinder Singh and three youngsters -- Daniel (Lalhlimpuia), Malsawmzuala from Mizoram and Nishu (Kumar) from Uttarakhand -- who are very talented."