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Indian Super League likely to expand to 10 teams

MUMBAI: IMG-Reliance, the marketing partners of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), is planning to expand the Indian Super League (ISL) to 10 teams next season with three existing I-League teams set to move up the ranks.

According to The Times of India, the two new teams will be chosen based on set criteria.

Indications are that apart from Bengaluru, the ISL will make space for a second franchise from Kolkata.

Indian-Super-League-coverDefending I-League champions Bengaluru FC are tipped to win the race for the Bengaluru franchise, leaving East Bengal and rival Mohun Bagan in the fray for potential tie-ups that will help them make the grade.

Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan’s wish of owning a football team could come true as the star is understood to be in talks to buy a Kolkata-based franchise, the report added.

Atletico de Kolkata co-owner Sourav Ganguly, a long-time supporter of Mohun Bagan, is learnt to have been advised by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to look into a possible tie-up. East Bengal, of course, with backing from Khan, could be the other franchise.

An industry source told, “The move will probably be KKR led. That brand is very familiar in Kolkata already. So it makes sense for him to expand his business in this manner. He is consolidating his assets.

The I-League teams will have to pay a bigger fee than what they are currently shelling out. But the returns are also much more. Everyone will have to be patient.”

Khan is co-owner of the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Kolkata Knight Riders and could seize the opportunity when the ISL expands to 10 teams and becomes a top-tier league in 2017.

Dempo Sports Club, the TOI report noted, famously came close to roping in the Bollywood star as a co-owner in 2012. Dempo chairman Shrinivas Dempo held several rounds of talks with Khan, but the move fizzled out. Next year, though, it could be different as Khan prepares to partner another iconic football club, East Bengal, and that too in a city of his choice.

Khan has always made it clear that should he decide to invest in football, it would only be from Kolkata.

Incidentally, he was handed lifetime membership by East Bengal during the promotion of his film ‘Dilwale’ last year.

Kolkata has space for just two franchises, the report stated, and indications are that one of the giants will have to join hands with Atletico de Kolkata.

Sources say Mohun Bagan, which is in talks with a French company, could step on to the ISL platform after a tie-up with Atletico de Kolkata, for which talks are underway.