After months of speculation, it finally happened. The Tatas and the JSW Group had their bids from Jamshedpur and Bengaluru respectively to join the Indian Super League recognised and approved by Football Sports Development Limited, the entity that runs the tournament.

This news was huge not only for the two conglomerates, the ISL or the All India Football Federation, but for Indian football as a whole. It meant that, if it wasn’t already apparent, the power centre for the sport in the country has shifted and for good.

Such is the polarising nature of the decision that it can hardly be expected to bring about consensus. While fans of the ISL rejoiced at the inclusion of Bengaluru FC and the prospect of a longer league, I-League supporters must surely recognise the implications for the league if the standard bearers of the division had switched over.

Bengaluru FC’s bid to own a franchise was finally successful three years after they had a conditional bid turned down. Mandar Tamhane, the Chief Technical Officer of Bengaluru FC says that the decision was anything but sudden. “This had been going on in our mind for some time. They’re changing a few things going forward, making it a longer league, providing a slot through the league for Asia. They’ve evolved, and we thought it was time for us to join the league,” Tamhane told The Field.

The advantage in terms of monetary benefits that the ISL provides over the I-League, is the presence of a central revenue sharing pool for all the teams involved. Tamhane denied that the pool was a decisive factor in BFC’s decision, “Going forward, I personally believe that, forget breaking even, it will be about cutting down on your losses.

“Central revenue was never a criteria. If you look at European football, TV deals are the ones making the most money. In the ISL, our spends are more, hopefully we’ll be able to cut our losses to the level that it was at before. But the management has thought this through. There is much more visibility, the thought process that has gone into this has taken that into account,” Tamhane explains.

The conundrum for Asian competition next year may have been solved for BFC, but questions about the squad’s composition for this year’s AFC Cup loom large with a proposed ISL draft taking place in early July.

Tamhane acknowledges the challenge in keeping the team together for the knockout rounds of the AFC Cup, “I know I’m at a small disadvantage. Obviously I’d have preferred an open market and we are known for maintaining a core of players but there is a possibility that we may not be able to do so.”

Currently, about 11 players, including a few juniors, are contracted to the club. “We’re not sure about the details (of retention and the auction). But they (FSDL) are aware that we have an AFC Cup knockout round and that July end is the last window for registration. We would also like a good pre-season of six to seven weeks,” Tamhane speaks about Bengaluru’s knockout tie against North Korean club 4.25 SC.

Winning has become a habit for Bengaluru FC, whose two league titles and two Federation Cups in four years mean that they are the most successful club in the nation in their four years of existence. “Winning doesn’t happen by chance, but even if I have the best of squads, it’s not a given that we’re winning the league. We hope we can do the right things as we have done from year one,” replies Tamhane when asked whether shuffling the team could interrupt a winning streak.

The Tatas were also reached out for comment, but responses were unavailable at the time of writing.

For their part, Aizawl FC are also about to take part in the AFC Champions League play-off and are almost certain to lose a sizeable chunk of the squad that took part in a modern-day “fairytale”.

With Lalramchullova, Mahmoud Al-Amna and Brandon Vanlalremdika on their way to Kolkata giants East Bengal along with coach Khalid Jamil and the I-League set to run parallel to the ISL, the Mizo club may lose others to the cash-rich league which is sure to offer players lucrative packages.

The biggest losers in this saga are East Bengal and Mohun Bagan as their refusal to pay a franchise fee and a staunch objection to the one city one club rule could see them play in the I-League for another season running.

They could yet join a revamped ISL should they opt to do so after their meeting in Kolkata and contingent upon availability of sponsors. Another scenario, where the AIFF may propose a Super Cup, may act as a stop-gap band-aid to ensure parity of the leagues, in which four teams from either league would compete with each other for another slot in Asia.

However, this solution would be at best temporary with a mass exodus of the best talent to the ISL the likely outcome with the leagues taking place alongside each other. A more established league may have weathered the storm but in the face of next-to-nothing marketing and step-motherly treatment, passionate fan bases and enthusiastic owners are the only factors that the I-League has in its favour.

Just a month and a half after the most memorable finish to a national league in living memory, the fans are right to be skeptical about the future of the league and its constituents.

For the neutral, the one silver lining in this is that Indian football’s calendar may finally be able to gain a semblance of order. The long-suffering proponents of an unified league system may be able to breathe a sigh of relief.