National football coach Bob Houghton has suggested that the Indian domestic structure be revamped further to continue the progress made by the team since his tenure began 27 months ago.
As per the blueprint submitted to the All India Football Federation, Houghton wants tournaments like the century-old Durand Cup in Delhi to be played during the pre-season between July and August, so that teams can use it as a preparatory ground ahead of the I-League's September start.
"The structure of domestic football needs to be changed further if India needs to compete well at the international level," Houghton said.
"We have qualified for the 2011 Asian Cup. Two days ago our under-16 team finished in the top 12 in Asia. Our I-League team (Dempo) is in the semi-finals of the AFC Cup. We now need to look ahead," the Englishman said in Mumbai on Friday.
The AIFF has already implemented Houghton's idea of holding I-League matches concurrently with the state league between September 2008 and April 2009, but from the next season the plan given by the national coach envisages nine months of I-League with matches conducted on week-ends only.
"From the 2009-10 season the I-League and state leagues need to be conducted concurrently from September to May with the I-League ties only on Saturdays and Sundays and state league matches on Wednesdays and Thursdays," he said.
Houghton said he has already had discussions on this issue with Mumbai clubs on Thursday and he'll proceed to Kolkata next for taking up the matter with the clubs there before meeting representatives of the clubs in Goa, where he is based.
"In order to go forward it's very important that we get a connect in the whole of Indian football," he said.
Emphasising the importance of the national league and the state leagues, which he said would serve as a feeder system, to work closely, Houghton said that for a country to become better at the international level a strong domestic league is vital.
Houghton said that the state leagues could use under-19 and under-16 players more and give sufficient rest to I-League players who are not allowed to play in the next state league tie if they had turned out for more than 45 minutes in the previous I-League match.
"From the next season the I-League should see 14 or 16 teams so that they get to play 26 or 30 matches each," he said.
"We also need to conduct the Federation Cup, which is the main qualifying tournament for events at the Asian level, but not in the way it has been conducted so far by which some teams get only one match to play before they get eliminated.
"The idea is that the preliminary rounds are played with the teams divided into groups of four each," he said, adding, "This is a much better structure for Indian football."
Houghton said he plans to conduct a national camp from January 2-16, 2009 in Dubai during the course of which the Indian team may play one friendly match.
"In July 2009 we have the Nehru Cup, then the World Cup qualifiers (for 2014 finals) in December 2010, followed by the Olympic qualifiers in February, 2011 and then the Asia Cup in June 2011," Houghton elaborated.
The national coach said India should target the 2018 World Cup with their current under-19, under-16 and under-13 players in mind.
"This is 2008, we have seven years to prepare for the 2015 qualifiers," he declared.