Restructuring of the country's domestic football is on the cards next year with Mohun Bagan and East Bengal likely to play in the Indian Super League from the 2019-20 season, according to officials.
Both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have been pushing for an ISL entry but the matter has been struck on the issue of franchisee fee of Rs 15 crores, which the two Kolkata giants were not willing to pay.
At a press conference to launch this season's I-League beginning October 26, All India Football Federation (AIFF) senior vice-president Subratta Dutta tried to evade questions on the matter but dropped enough hints that the anticipated restructuring will take place next year.
Asked why Churchill Brothers were not relegated from the I-League last season, Dutta said, "Now that the restructuring is going to happen, we thought there was no harm in retaining Churchill Brothers (for this upcoming season) as relegating them would see no representation from the whole of West India."
Last season, Goan side Churchill Brothers finished ninth in the 10-team I-League, while the AIFF's development side Indian Arrows ended at the bottom. Since Indian Arrows would not be relegated, Churchill Brothers were supposed to get the axe.
East Bengal player Lalrindika Ralte, who represented the Kolkata side at the launch ceremony, was more direct than Dutta, though unwittingly.
"I heard that East Bengal is going to play in the ISL next season, so this will be our last I-League campaign. We have to do well and hopefully win the title as we could not do that in the last season," he said.
East Bengal was in contention for the title till the fag end of the I-League last season before Minerva Punjab won it on the final match day with 35 points.
Neroca, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal finished second, third and fourth respectively on 32, 31 and 31 points respectively.
An AIFF source also indicated that both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal will most likely get entry into the ISL next season. Both the clubs, which have huge fan bases, have roped in new sponsors recently.
"Some clubs from the I-League are likely to play in the ISL next year while the rest remain, though a final decision is yet to be taken," the source told PTI.
For entry into the ISL, the organisers will have to open bids and interested franchises will have to apply for that.
"There have also been discussions on whether I-League may be given another name," said the source who, however, was not willing to spell out whether ISL will be made the top-tier league or not.
The AIFF top brass has all along been saying that I-League was the top-tier league of the country though the cash-rich Indian Super League has been the more popular one.
The winner of the I-League gets a chance to qualify for the AFC Champions League, the continent's top-tier club competition, while the ISL winner is given a berth in the second tier AFC Cup.
This year, the I-League will be competed among 11 teams. Srinagar-based Real Kashmir will make its debut after winning the second division league last year.