Less than a week after completing an improbable I-League win, Minerva Punjab have expressed their displeasure over both the "discrimination" in the draw for the upcoming Super Cup, as well as the perceived insufficient financial support from the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for the knockout tournament that starts with the qualifiers in Bhubaneswar on March 15.
"Even if we play one small local tournament, the organisers put you up in one place at least. Here we have come to know that there is nothing that will be given for food, accommodation, travel, anything," Minerva owner Ranjit Bajaj told ESPN. "The total expenditure for these two months -- salaries, stay, travel -- all could be for just one match, and works out somewhere between INR 40 or 50 lakh (approx. $62,000 to $77,000). There was no communication that we would have to pay for things ourselves."
The AIFF on their part clarified that the I-League clubs were all given a subsidy this season of INR 75 lakh (approx. $115,000) as opposed to INR 45 lakh (approx. $70,000) for 2016-17, when they competed in the I-League and the Federation Cup. Bajaj said that the increased subsidy was given with a view to allowing for a bigger marketing push and keeping in mind that this would be a longer league than last time, and run concurrently with the Indian Super League (ISL).
The AIFF themselves had talked of "greater distribution of central pool of ISL monies among all clubs, increase in prize money, greater ad spend and improved broadcast quality of the I-League" when announcing that the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) had granted the ISL official status last June. The Super Cup, when discussed as an idea at that stage, was proposed as a short tournament involving the top four teams of both leagues.
"If only four clubs were supposed to be playing, were the other six teams being given the extra money out of AIFF's largesse?" said Bajaj, who has also contested the draw, which has both champions Minerva and runners-up NEROCA facing ISL teams in the round of 16 itself. While Minerva have been drawn to face Jamshedpur FC, who used the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar as a home venue in the ISL, NEROCA will be up against Kerala Blasters. Jamshedpur were fifth in the regular season, missing out on a playoffs place on the last day, while Kerala were sixth.
The four qualifiers, who will be from among the bottom four teams of the ISL and the I-League, drawn to face each other in four matches on March 15 and 16, have been drawn to face Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Bengaluru FC and FC Goa.
"Apparently, the draw said initially that we are going to play a qualifier as a champion. Why are we playing Jamshedpur then?" said Bajaj. "They are compelling us to play; I am just going to tell my players that if you want to play, play. It's fine if they don't."
"I am [financially] sorted for next season's I-League as well as the AFC competitions. Next season, even if we have to bid for the ISL, [team sponsors] Apollo is backing me up for the franchise fees. I don't want to start in the red for next season."
Super Cup qualifiers schedule:
March 15: Delhi Dynamos v Churchill Brothers and NorthEast United v Gokulam Kerala
March 16: Mumbai City v Indian Arrows and ATK v Chennai City