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‘Time to look into I-League format’

New Delhi: Two days before Bhaichung Bhutia plays his last international match for India against Bayern Munich, the iconic footballer called for a complete revamp of the I-League to check the decreasing popularity of the championship.

“It is time one looked into the format and structure of domestic football, especially the I-League. Otherwise the downhill trend will continue and it will hamper the progress of Indian football,” Bhaichung told The Telegraph on Sunday.

Wearing the jersey, specially designed by the national team kit sponsors for his farewell match with ‘the start of a legacy’ written on it, Bhaichung said congestion of teams from two particular states is having a negative impact on the league.

“As long as you have a league where eight teams come from two states, things would never improve and popularity will go down. The AIFF (All India Football Federation) should chalk out a plan in which all other states also get proper representations in the league. If several other states have teams in the I-League, then more people would come and watch. We have seen how it worked after Shillong Lajong qualified for the League,” Bhutia pointed out.

Unlike national coach Savio Medeira, the ace striker is not in favour of reducing the number of foreigners in the league and said efforts should be made to increase the number of teams. “If we have 16 teams from across the country, more number of Indian players would get a chance to play,” he said.

The former India captain said he was honoured to play his last match against a team like Bayern Munich but admitted India should not play against such big teams on a regular basis.

“Bayern are too big a teamů probably the best after Barcelona at the moment. A one-off match against Bayern is fine but India should actually play regularly against national teams, who are, may be, 30 ranks higher than India. It will help us to improve. The idea is to play at least 12 to 15 matches in a season,” said Bhaichung.

On Sunday morning, Bhaichung spent two hours practising with the rest of team and said he was prepared to start against Bayern.

“I can’t say I am hundred per cent fit to play against a top side like Bayern but I will give my best. An injury before the Asian Cup did not allow me to play an international tie before calling it a day. Here is a chance and I am not going to lose it,” he said.