AIFF announces 16-team Super Cup in April

The AIFF's league committee has announced the Indian Super Cup - a 16-team knockout tournament in April - involving the six top teams from both the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League. The remaining eight teams from the two 10-team leagues will compete for the last four slots, between March 12 and March 31.

The final tournament will be held between March 31 and April 22, with Cuttack and Kochi among the potential hosts. With the I-League winners assured of an AFC Champions League playoff spot, and the ISL winners for this season provisionally getting an AFC slot too, AIFF confirmed to ESPN that the winner of the Super Cup will not be getting any new slot for 2019.

For the I-League teams, the extension of the season will mean having to retain players for longer as well.

"It's just one match -- there's no round-robin league, and you are out if you lose the first game," Debasish Dutta, finance secretary of Mohun Bagan, said. "The I-League comes to an end on March 6 and our players are contracted till then. We are definitely going to finish in the top six, and then there is no game until March 31. Then we play that one game, and we have to extend the contract for two more months."

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Another club official bemoaned the lack of an AFC slot for the winners. "Top professionals need to have a motivation for a tournament like this. Championship victories should lead to some kind of continental slot the way the I-League does. If we want to improve, we can't have these short tournaments," the official said.

Jamshedpur FC assistant coach Ishfaq Ahmed told ESPN that their players were contracted until May, keeping in mind that AIFF and their commercial partners IMG-Reliance had first spoken about the Super Cup in their proposed revamp of Indian football in 2016.

"Sooner or later, once AIFF is able to structure Indian football properly, they should make this a proper Cup competition, where every team plays home and away," he said.

Interestingly, the Federation Cup, which was the knockout cup in Indian football and is something the Super Cup seeks to replace, was played in a similar 16-team knockout format till 2007.

Since 2008, the tournament has been played on a league-cum-knockout basis with 16 teams, except in 2016, when the straight knockout was tried with just eight teams playing each leg home and away. The last Federation Cup in 2017 was played with a league-cum-knockout format in Cuttack, with Bengaluru FC winning the title to ensure participation in the AFC Cup for 2019.

The earlier version of the Super Cup organised by AIFF was similar to England's Community Shield, played between the winners of the I-League and the Federation Cup for the season gone by, but the last edition was held in 2011, when East Bengal beat Salgaocar on penalties.