How did the two new ISL clubs - Hyderabad FC and Odisha FC - come to be, and how are they likely to line up for the 2019-20 season? Will these teams be able qualify for the AFC Champions League (ACL) for 2021?
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has not only promoted the ISL to the top division and given a coveted continental slot to the franchise-based league, but their executive committee decided in July to grant the premier ACL slot to the league table toppers.
The AFC Cup slot had gone to Chennaiyin FC and Bengaluru FC over the past two seasons on the basis of winning the final, but do the same regulations apply to Hyderabad and Odisha? ESPN answers all your questions.
What prompted the switch for Pune and Delhi?
Lack of crowds, and an inherent difficulty in raising a loyal fanbase were key reasons behind both Pune and Delhi looking to discontinue their teams.
While Delhi's management remains the same, and will take charge of Odisha FC, Pune's owners are said to have sold their team off to Vijay Madduri, an IT entrepreneur, and Varun Tripuraneni, who has worked as Chief Operating Officer for both Chennaiyin FC and Kerala Blasters in the ISL.
"While we did try to build a fan base, and we do have a small, vociferous group of supporters, the response from the community wasn't as good as we had hoped for," said Ashish Shah, CEO of the Delhi team, who will continue with the same role at Odisha.
"Football [in Delhi] is not getting the kind of traction it would get in some other cities, which in turn would pull in families, people who are not die hard football fans. This creates an issue in terms of revenues and sponsorships. We were just finding it extremely difficult to sustain, with the costs incurred and revenues coming in."
What are the new rosters likely to look like?
While Delhi's players and management have switched over to Odisha with a continuation of their previous contracts, ESPN understands Hyderabad FC are also going to continue with a large number of erstwhile Pune players and their most recent coach Phil Brown, who had signed a contract extension with Pune City for two more seasons at the end of his 2018-19 stint.
A source denied that the lack of fanfare behind Hyderabad's identity - the new club is yet to find a mention in the league's official website, which has already replaced Delhi with Odisha among the 10 competing clubs - has anything to do with the AIFF transfer ban imposed on Pune City for an illegal approach to Chennai City's Nestor Gordillo.
"Pune City and Hyderabad are registered in separate locations as different entities," the source told ESPN. "Pune will continue their youth operations, and Hyderabad is a new club. All the players know it, and the players will soon join pre-season. Nothing is hidden about it."
Will the clubs be eligible for ACL qualification then?
Hyderabad are also almost certain to miss out on AFC competition for the first two years because of AFC's club licensing criteria, which require the membership and contractual relationship of a club to have lasted a minimum of two years for them to qualify for continental tournaments. While senior AIFF officials ESPN reached out to didn't give a specific answer, one source said that the new clubs would first have to get a national license and only then would they satisfy all criteria of AFC licensing.
However, an Odisha FC official told ESPN that the only details their team needed to upload was of their new stadium, and hence they should be able to retain their AFC club license for the new season.