'They are free to move on if better opportunity comes their way'
When Aizawl FC scripted a fairytale triumph in I League, there were questions about the club's immediate future what with the players looking to move on to greener pastures of the Indian Super League.
The fears were not unfounded. Majority of their first-class players, and more importantly the one who injected the sense of belief and power to dream big -- coach Khalid Jamil, exited.
Standing at similar crossroads is Minerva Punjab, the latest I League champions. After having won the title on Thursday, club owner Ranjit Bajaj faces a headache more than a dilemma, to keep hold of this group for the coming season.
Certainly, the answer to this wasn't what one could expect. "I know these boys will leave next year. I am already preparing for it," Bajaj told Mail Today.
"I have never treated them like I am the owner and I have spoken to them during the season that if they have a better offer, they should leave. The likes of Chencho (Gyeltshen) could easily be picked to play in the Indian Super League and I have no regrets because he played his part this season. We have already shortlisted the foreign players we want to buy next season, so I am not worried. Besides, we have a great academy, as everyone knows, so we have our local talent to rely on," he added.
A question of staying afloat in the I League is unanswerable since the All India Football Federation plans to revamp its league structure for the coming year. Fighting the might of ISL clubs, given AIFF's stern financial criteria, could be a hindrance for the Chandigarh-based club.
"I don't need money to be honest. We know that the I League might not exist next season as AIFF are planning for a different league system but we have faith that as I League champions we will play in the top tier nonetheless. That's totally up to the federation to reward us for our achievement but I am not going to compete against any ISL club financially. On the pitch, we are ready to beat them," he said.
Commenting on the future of I League, meanwhile, tournament CEO Sunando Dhar said a decision will soon be made after the Super Cup.
"We have to look above the financial criteria since clubs like Minerva and Aizawl have proved they are top teams. It's a lengthy process, and we are hopeful to resolve this soon. I would say that a new league structure is reckoning next season. But there have been no talks about which club will be part of the top tier," Dhar told Mail Today.