In the presence of coaches Luis Norton De Matos, Khalid Jamil, promising youngster Jeakson Singh, Sanjiv Stalin, Alfred Fernandes, Syhlo Malsawmtluanga and Sunny Norde, the 11th edition of I-League was officially launched at a glittering ceremony in New Delhi on Tuesday.
The Hero I-League will kick off with a match between Minerva Punjab and Mohun Bagan on 25 November at Ludhiana and culminates on March 6, 2018.
The league this year sees the addition of three new teams, Gokulam Kerala FC (Calicut), Neroca FC (Imphal, Manipur) and Indian Arrows (New Delhi) raising the number of teams to 10. Besides, this edition will also be much more rewarding for the players from a financial point of view. While the team prize money remains consistent for the winners (1 Crore), Runners Up (60 Lakh), Third Place (40 Lakhs) and Fourth Place (25 Lakhs) teams, that for individual prize moneys have seen a whopping increase of over 100 per cent this season.
This edition will see the return of AIFF’s developmental team, Indian Arrows that will call Delhi its home. India U-17 team head coach Luis Norton De Matos of Portugal would be its head coach. The team is a mix of India U-17 and India U-19 team players.
The teams for this edition are defending champion Aizawl FC (Mizoram), Neroca FC (Manipur), Shillong Lajong FC (Meghalaya), Mohun Bagan AC, Kingfisher East Bengal (West Bengal), Minerva Punjab (Punjab), Gokulam Kerala FC (Kerala), Churchill Brothers SC (Goa), Indian Arrows (Delhi), Chennai City FC (Chennai). Speaking on the occasion De Matos opined, “We’re here to learn more and we have to give our best. If we draw, if not win, it’s a great victory for us and we are positive for the challenges.” Khalid Jamil who coached winner of the last edition Aizawl FC and is now with East Bengal said, “Expectations are high from us and we are here to give a big fight and hopefully win the season this year.”
Syhlo Malsawmtuanga, Captain Aizawl FC was of the view that last season was amazing and this year also we expect the fans to come out in large numbers and provide the necessary support.
Bobby Nongbet, Head Coach Shillong Lajong said there were lot of expectations from his team.
“I have faith on young players coming from the academy and they’re capable to pull off a great show as a team, I belief, so l say,” he said. All India Football Federation (AIFF) General Secretary Kaushal Das exuded confidence about the success of the league saying, “This year is all about showcasing what the Hero I-League has been doing for years. Launching Indian football’s future stars. History is testimony that the Hero I-League has laid the foundation for Indian football stars to go ahead and shine in their careers and make the country proud.”
“I believe these new developments along with the clubs from Northeast, West Bengal, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Goa will make the league even more competitive and interesting,” he added.
Meanwhile talking to mediapersons on the sidelines of this function, Kushal Das confirmed that U-17 coach Luis Norton De Matos’ contract will run till the end of the I-League and after that we will see and discuss about it.
He also hinted that senior team chief coach Stephen Constantine will get a contract extension in March despite certain reports of rift with senior players.
“It will be a decision of technical committee finally (in March 2018) but going by his (Constantine’s) performance and results, (13-match unbeaten streak including a berth in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup tournament.) I don’t see any reason why he should not be continued,” Das said.
Asked about the reports of differences between Constantine and the players, Das said it is “bit of made up.”
“I don’t think there is any serious rift. I think it is probably a bit made up, may be he has had a bit of difference with some of the players but not a major issue. You have to accept the results under him and the fact that India has moved up to 105 in FIFA rankings and qualified for the Asian Cup,” he said.