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Clubs, fans wait with bated breath for I-League to begin, AIFF keeps mum

Jaydeep Basu

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No word from the AIFF on when this season's I-League will begin.

New Delhi: Agatha Christie’s novel “And Then There Were None” is often described as a game changer in murder-mystery literature.

The plan hatched by a retired judge to eliminate a group of people gathered in an isolated island was chilling. And the operation was smooth enough to leave Scotland Yard baffled. No wonder the book sold over in millions.

A similar storyline has somehow unfolded in Indian football, of late. The island in the book off the Devon coast of England could be equated with I-League here.

The clubs here are like the earlier name of the book when it was first published in 1939. “Ten Little Niggers”, after the minstrel song, which serves as a major plot point.

The plan here is to eliminate a particular league and a particular group of clubs for the benefit of some other league and some other group of clubs. Loud and clear. Cleverly hatched at the start of the season.

The opening salvo was fired by June this year. The I-League was placed in a kind of imaginary island, which is isolated and has a bleak future. Or no future at all. Decided, stamped and duly signed after a meeting in a five-star facility in the capital.

The plot thickens. The latest is to keep these clubs guessing about the future of I-League. Will it be played this season? Or will be suspended for good? “When will I-League start? October 26?” “No, that’s too close to Diwali.” “First week of November?” “Not too sure.” “Middle of November?” “Well, wait and see. We will call a meeting in due course of time.”

chennai city

Chennai City are the defending I-League champions.

I-League clubs are financially not too sound and naturally, unsure of their future. So, keep them guessing. They should stay confused at every step. While approaching sponsors or negotiating with foreign players or planning their pre-season.

Nothing should be made clear about I-League’s television coverage. “It is still being planned. Have patience. All good news will arrive in one basket in due course of time.” And if, by any chance, there is an interested party, keep them at bay.

The sense of uncertainty must prevail. Make life miserable for I-League clubs at every stage. Like the frightened bunch in “Ten Little Niggers”, one after one club may shut shop in sheer frustration. The purpose is served.

But you must act tough when it is about discipline. Impose fines on certain clubs on various counts. Rs. 10 lakhs here, Rs. 27 lakhs there. Twist their arms as much as possible till they fall in line.

Like true administrators, make sure the cases are dragged for months. From one committee to another. If outcome could be unfavourable, then don’t call the meeting. Or simply keep postponing.

An officer from a certain office in Dwarka, Delhi, called up this correspondent in June. The officer was polite but firm. To quote the officer exactly: “The day is not far when the I-League clubs will have to go around with begging bowls….”.

The prospect of I-League clubs sitting on pavements in torn clothes doesn’t make anyone shudder. Not anymore. After all, the writing on the wall is clear. But the hidden pleasure in the voice sent chills down the spine.

Who said welfare governance is about taxing the rich and protecting the poor? It is the other way round in Indian football.

Still, one mystery remains unsolved. Who plays the role of Justice Lawrence Wargrave here, the man who sent everyone to grave? It is for the readers to arrive at their own conclusion.

But one thing is sure. The soccer script for “And Then There Were None” is ready for release.

Find more articles from our sports columnist at Jaydeep Basu.

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ISL: Holders Bengaluru held by NorthEast United

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Action during the BFCvsNEUFC match.

Bengaluru: Holders Bengaluru FC began their title defence with a goalless draw against a spirited NorthEast United FC in the Indian Super League (ISL).

Debuts were handed out to several new signings, including Asamoah Gyan, Raphael Augusto and Ashique Kuruniyan but the teams couldn’t be separated at the end the riveting contest.

Bengaluru got off the blocks quickly and pressed NorthEast high up the field.

Ashique announced his arrival with a trademark solo run from the left-back position in the 15th minute. The former FC Pune City player beat three players on his way into the box but shot wide of the mark.

NorthEast United were pinned to their own half in the early stages but were the first to have a shot on target. Collecting a layoff from Asamoah Gyan, Uruguayan Martin Chaves dribbled past Juanan and forced a diving save from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the 21st minute.

A few minutes later, Raphael Augusto split the Highlanders’ defence with an exquisite pass that released Udanta into the box but the Indian winger failed to test the goalkeeper with a wayward shot from a promising position.

The intensity dropped as the first half wore on. The Bengaluru defence failed to clear a loose ball inside the box after the half-hour mark and Rahul Bheke’s header back to Gurpreet ended up with Chaves who slashed wide in front of an open goal.

The game opened up after the break and both teams started finding openings.

Martin Chaves’ rampaging run through the centre in the 52nd minute caught the Bengaluru defence off-guard. The forward found Gyan in space inside the box and the Ghanaian striker’s splendid effort bounced back off the bar.

Bengaluru, however, responded by fashioning two huge chances. Sunil Chhetri won a header at the back post and found Michael Onwu at point-blank range but he could not sort his feet out in time and the danger was cleared.

A headed clearance by Mislav Komorski after the hour-mark fell to Nishu Kumar who unleashed a powerful strike at the goal which Subhasish Roy Chowdhury in the Highlanders’ goal brilliantly kept out with one hand while diving to his right.

Carles Cuadrat brought Eugeneson Lyngdoh on with less than ten minutes to go as Bengaluru tried to find a late winner but the NorthEast defence, led by Komorski and Kai Heerings, and screened by an ever-present Jose Leudo in midfield, did well to close the gaps, frustrate the hosts and pick up a point.

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New team Hyderabad FC have prepared thoroughly for ISL, says Robin Singh

Ashish Mani Tiwari

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Robin Singh

New Delhi: Out of favour India striker Robin Singh has said the home team’s draw in the FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Bangladesh was a piece of quality football by both teams.

He praised Bangladesh for fighting valiantly. “Kudos to Bangladesh, they defended really well,” he told Sports Lounge.

Bangladesh were on top of the game right from the very beginning. But India maintained ball possession and created chances. “Bangladesh’s defence was really compact, but we (India) kept on attacking,” he added.

The match ended 1-1.  Defender Adil Khan scored a late goal to help India salvage a point. They have two points from three matches in the FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers, one more than Bangldesh.

Skipper Sunil Chhetri expressed his disappointment at India failing to win at home.

“We couldn’t deliver a performance to match the atmosphere at the Salt Lake last night, and the dressing room is very disappointed about it,” tweeted Chhetri.

Robin was recently present at the launch of the Tango League in Mumbai. He praised the initiative for putting focus on grassroots level.

“The adidas Tango League is an extremely popular urban football concept in India and across the globe. I wish I had something like this when I was growing up in football. With brands like adidas coming forward and facilitating such grass root efforts, the league is a boost for city amateurs”.

Robin will play in the sixth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) for the new franchise Hyderabad FC. He is also in form, scoring a hat-trick in one of Hyderabad’s pre-season matches.

He said they have prepared well for the  ISL. “We have not lost any game in pre-season.  It certainly lifts up the spirit up of team and we are looking forward for the upcoming season.”

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Thin talent pool, low match count: Problems aplenty for Indian football coach Igor Stimac

Jaydeep Basu

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Igor Stimac
New India football coach Igor Stimac is already under pressure. Photos: Twitter and Google.

New Delhi: Former India coach Bob Houghton would offer a sarcastic smile whenever there was a mention of India’s large population and its untapped soccer talent. When he spoke, his tone hung somewhere between sarcastic and annoyed.

“You talk about 130 million people. Yet, your pool of footballers is smaller than a tiny European nation,” he once told this correspondent. “There are not more than 75 players from whom I can choose my national team. That’s not enough,” he argued.

Houghton’s irritation was easily understandable. There was no Indian Super League (ISL) during his tenure (2006-11). I-League had 10 or 12 teams. The regulation allowed each club to field maximum of three foreigners in the playing eleven. The number of frontline Indian footballers never crossed the hundred mark.

The situation has gone from bad to worse. Though it should be better because of two parallel leagues and bigger number of teams. Almost all top players play in ISL. It enjoys nearly cent percent monopoly in the national team.

Under the current regulation, each ISL team can have maximum of five foreigners on the field at any given time. It further shortens the national coach’s options. Arguably, the pool of footballers is reduced to 60. Nearly half of them get a call to the national camp. So much for a nation of 130 million!

Igor Stimac

India have drawn two of their three Fifa World Cup qualifying games under Igor Stimac.

There are other problems too. The number of top-tier matches in India have come down drastically. If not alarmingly. Two decades ago there was a situation when All India Football Federation (AIFF) felt footballers were playing too many matches. It issued a circular saying no top-tier footballer would be allowed to play more than 50 matches in a domestic season!

It was a circular in complete contrast to the present situation. A look at the list of national team players would reveal none of them played more than 25 matches (let’s make it 30) in a season for the last couple of years.

A national team footballer recently said: “I played 120 or more matches in the first three seasons of my career. Now I struggle find even 25 competitive matches in a domestic season.” Not exactly a huge compliment for calendar planners.

Sources say a technical person in the AIFF recently raised this issue in several internal meetings. He wondered how a 10-team closed league and just a six-month domestic season can take India to the world level. He questioned the lack of match practice for seniors and youth team policies too.

The latest information is that the person is being branded as a “difficult” person, who asks “unreasonable” questions. Not to be surprised if he is shown the door.

Is it an unwritten law that only footballers from the ISL are eligible for the national team? Well, one has no idea. Previously, coaches used to look for players beyond the national league. One would like to believe the policy is still in place.

Jiri Pesek

The visionary Jiri Pesek was bold enough to induct unknown but talented players into the Indian football team.

At least two coaches, who won I-League titles, felt the need of bigger pool of players. “Some talented footballers are there in I-League. They may still not be ready for the national team. But a few stints at the national camps could be good for the future,” said one of them.

Gone are the days when Jiri Pesek would spot a player in Himachal Santosh Trophy team and would induct him in national squad. Or an unknown teenager from Sikkim would straightaway be introduced at national level by the coach at his own risk.

Things have changed. Dramatically, post 2014. The stamp on the back is somewhat important. Though the difference in talent is not exactly huge. In fact, it is the lack of extraordinary talent (barring a few) is adding to the problem.

In 2019, India is a market-driven country. There is no place for welfare measures. Call them inept, call them unprofessional, but they know how to count their money. Football is part and parcel of society. Things can’t be different here.

Find more articles from our sports columnist at Jaydeep Basu.

“Get more sports news, cricket news and football updates, log on to sportslounge.co.in. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter and Subscribe YouTube Channel.”

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