AIFF defer marquee rule change; conceive the U-15 League, again

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EARLIER TODAY representatives of 28 football clubs from around the country assembled at the Football House for AIFF's workshop on club licensing. The air around was mostly cordial, as CEOs, Directors and Finance Offiers of rival clubs gathered to discuss policies that could help strengthen the I-League and make it more popular. There was, however, one point that was to be contested heavily. 

In 2014-15, AIFF introduced a 'Marquee player' rule in the I-League. It required clubs to sign a player with some specific qualities if they were to have 4 foreigners. The player in question either had to play in the World Cup or a continental championship for countries, or he must have featured in one of the prestigious club tournaments in the world, e.g. Club World Cup, UEFA Champions League etc. The intention was noble. Similar rules regarding foreign players have been used by many countries and their leagues have benefited from the higher quality players that came in. Algeria is a prime example. But the problem is, clubs over there are not cash-stricken existential units like ours. Hence, it soon became clear that clubs were going for older and more obscure players that did technicaly qualify for the marquee criteria, but offered none of its intended skill level. Apart from Lajong's Cornell Glenn and Mohun Bagan's Pierre Boya, few saw any success. Clubs like Mumbai FC and Sporting Clube de Goa didn't even sign a marquee player and played with three foreigners.

So instead of addressing the major issue - lack of revenue for the clubs - AIFF decided to double down on the marquee rule and make it more strict. Technical Director Scott O'Donell penned a new checklist for the marquee player. The player must have played in the World Cup not less than 5 years ago. He must have played in one of the top 30 football leagues in the world. He must have represented one of the top 70 nations in the world within the last two years. 

These rules have made sure clubs will be extremely hard pressed to find a player like that within their budget. Obviously, the clubs opposed. They had come prepared and asked for the marquee rule to be abolished. AIFF did not fully back-pedal on the issue, but put it on the back-burner for a while. It was announced that for the 2015-16 season no change to the marquee rule will be implemented. The new set of criterions will be sent to the AIFF Technical Committee for further review. And to ensure that communication is maintained between AIFF Technical Committee and the I-League Committee, they will form a new 3-member committee.

But there was no word on when they will form the committee that will elect this committee that will mediate communication between two committees. 

As for the clubs' financial situation, AIFF were happy to provide a number of incentives... by tightening regulations. There will be a salary cap in place to control expenses. Also total player & staff salaries cannot exceed more than 65% of the total budget. 5% of the budget must be reserved for marketing. Goalkeeper coaches and fitness trainers have been made mandatory for clubs, and to ensure smooth functioning of the club, there must be an Administrative Officer and a Match Operations Officer in place. So far so good. But then AIFF ruled that clubs must clear salaries due to players and staff by 31st December. This kind of strict ruling is interesting coming from an organization that is yet to pay the clubs their participation and prize money from the last couple of I-League seasons. And the one step that could really boost the clubs' coffers, that is sharing the TV revenue with them as done by all prominent leagues around the world, was not even discussed. Although it was mentioned that one company has shown interest in broadcasting the I-League 2015-16 season so far.

The other big thing that came out of the meeting was the formation of an Under-15 I-League, to be kicked off this very September. All clubs from I-League first and second divisions plus major academies across the country will participate in it. Brilliant, right? A new league would mean youth development would receive some much-needed extra boost. By the rules, every I-League club is required to maintain U13, U15, U18 and U20 teams, and it makes no sense unless they all have tournaments to play in. Plus, players who are Under-15 in 2015 will be Under-17 in 2017... so this particular league will be our future World Cuppers will be tested. It makes perfect sense to do this.

But, thing is, this is not the first time AIFF has created the Under-15 I-League. Back in July 2014, a similar league was proposed. Initially, it was supposed to include not only I-League clubs and academies, but also teams created by all 8 ISL franchises. First the ISL teams backed out. Then everybody seemed to totally forget about it. Season went by, and the Under-15 I-League was nowhere to be seen. Now that the league has been recalled into existence, one can cautiously hope to see it actually take place as well.

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