New Delhi: Santosh Trophy in Delhi in October 2004 was a huge hit. A capacity crowd at the Ambedkar Stadium watched the semi-finals and final. This was despite the fact the two star-studded states, Bengal and Goa, made early exits.
The story, however, lies elsewhere. The national camp was called immediately after Santosh Trophy. The players of a particular club from Goa team ignored the call of national duty and boarded a train to go home.
The then general secretary of All India Football Federation (AIFF), Alberto Colaco, was furious. He called up the team management and threatened to suspend the players. Sensing trouble, the footballers abandoned the journey midway through and returned to Delhi immediately.
At least two newspapers in Delhi and Goa ran juicy stories about how the India team stars hurriedly got down from one train in Agra and took another train back to Delhi.
Those were the days, old timers would say. Well, it could be. But under current FIFA rules, no general secretary can be so dictatorial. He has to respect the law.
The rule says each FIFA international window for national teams is of nine days, starting Monday morning and ending Tuesday night the following week. A team is allowed to play maximum of two matches in this period.
Clubs should release players, who should join the national team no later than Monday night. They should be released back the day after the last match.
The concept of longer national camps is virtually ruled out. Unless a huge championship like World Cup, Confederation Cup or continental championship is involved.
Last but not the least. Should a national federation breach these provisions repeatedly, it could face a ban, the rule further adds. The clubs have supreme control on footballers in modern day soccer.
Recently, India’s national coach Igor Stimac had a suggestion. He wanted a set of matches in ISL (November 6 to 10) to be kept on hold so that he could have a week-long national camp for the couple of pre-World Cup away matches on November 14 and 19. Against Afghanistan at Dushanbe and against Oman at Al-Seeb.
Stimac’s predicament was understandable. The horrible draw against Bangladesh in Kolkata has taken the steam out of his pre-World Cup campaign. He knows the rules, but he is simply desperate.
Stimac’s suggestion was promptly turned down. And rightly so. He has to produce results within the framework of law. Moreover, he never had a November camp in mind when calendar was discussed and finalised in August.
Yet, there was something which went beyond the script and the censor board. From absolutely nowhere, an unnamed official of marketing partners of the AIFF launched an unprecedented attack on coach.
Stimac was called unprofessional. Stimac was castigated for changing his stand. Stimac was ridiculed for opening his mouth in front of media. And so on.
Well, some people do overreact. However uncouth the words may sound. It should be forgotten. Stimac also must have felt the same way. One could spot his smiling face during the inaugural match of ISL a few days ago.
Very impressive opening of the @IndSuperLeague and loved the atmosphere here in Kochi. It was a sea of yellow in and outside the stadium. #LetsFootball I’ll be following both @IndSuperLeague & @ILeagueOfficial to check the boys for our @IndianFootball 🇮🇳🐯 #BackTheBlue pic.twitter.com/yKWfh3UCcL
— Igor Štimac (@stimac_igor) October 20, 2019
What can’t be forgiven is not words but the silence of the AIFF. While its own national coach was publicly lambasted by its own marketing partners, it remained a mute spectator. There was not even a mild attempt to defend the national coach.
An I-League coach could be dragged to disciplinary committee for criticising officials. An I-League club owner can be sent to ethics committee for “objectionable” tweets. There are different sets of rules for different people.
A former national coach had the best thing to say on the issue. “Like all national coaches, Stimac only took a chance by demanding a camp. He has been put in his place.
“But not to defend him while he is being abused by an outside agency is indeed sad. I am happy that I no more wear the national coach’s hat,” said the coach.
Time AIFF president Praful Patel and his trusted lieutenants explained which side they were working for.
Find more articles from our sports columnist at Jaydeep Basu.