The great I-League title-run must not distract us from the impending struggle of Indian football coaches

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With Indian domestic football scene set to be shaken to its core in the near future, what promise does it hold for the Indian coaches?

It really is a heartening sight to see two enterprising Indian coaches in Khalid Jamil and Sanjoy Sen battle it out for the crown of Indian football - an engrossing tussle between Mohun Bagan and Aizawl FC - that has captured the attention of the entire Indian footballing fraternity like nothing else has in the recent past. 

With one final day of reckoning still left to come down on us, the excitement and euphoria that surrounds the final matchday of the 2017 I-League is at a crescendo. Not only have Sanjoy Sen and Khalid Jamil caught the eye this time around, Shillong Lajong's Thangboi Singto is also scripting an endearing story of his own in Meghalaya with his persistence in youth. Derrick Pereira, too, has had a wonderful spell in charge of Churchill Brothers after he took over the Red Machine mid-season. 

Re-introducing Aizawl FC heroes

All this casts sunshine on the work these coaches have done, especially in comparison to what the foreign coaches have achieved this season. Dave Rogers has struggled with DSK Shivajians while Albert Roca, despite a phenomenal AFC Cup run late last year, has not been able to match the highs Bengaluru have achieved in the past seasons and conceded the title quite early. Trevor Morgan also failed to sustain his impressive start with East Bengal and has been sacked. 

Khalid Jamil Aizawl Mohun Bagan I-League 2017

With the spotlight firmly on M/s. Jamil and Sen ahead of the D-Day on April 30th, two other Indian coaches in Singto and V Soundararajan (Chennai City) will play kingmakers - something that should have gladdened the hearts of an average Indian football fan. But one might be forced to enjoy it while it lasts because, in all probability, this is likely to be the final time in the near future when two Indian managers go head-to-head for India's domestic football title. 

This is where the uncertainty over India's domestic football restructuring comes into play. The proposed merger between the I-League and the IMG-Reliance owned Indian Super League (ISL) could see the latter replace the former as India's premier footballing competition.

If it happens, there will definitely be greater focus on the game with improved coverage and the inclusion of prominent stars from Europe and Latin America - all excellent developments which are likely to help in the spread of the game throughout the country. 

But what of the Indian coaches? What future do they hold when (and if) ISL kicks off as India's main league?

Most of the ISL franchises prefer celebrated foreign coaches who, to be fair, do bring a different perspective and quality into the game. But as things stand, even if a club wants to appoint a promising Indian coach, they are in a position where their hands are tied. 

It is no secret that ISL regulations state that the head coach of a team must have experience in one of the top leagues in Europe or Latin America or at least should have been a successful player in one of the said leagues and is now looking to get into coaching. This clause effectively rules out an Indian coach taking over the mantle of an ISL franchise. 

In fact, the highest position an Indian could hope to reach is the assistant coach. Churchill's Derrick Pereira has already agreed to become FC Goa's assistant coach next season and more could follow. 

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Which begs the question whether the Indian coaches would be protected before Indian football goes riding into the sunlight, all glittering, endeavouring to wake the inner sleeping giant. Will the All India Football Federation (AIFF) ensure the likes of Khalid Jamil and Sanjoy Sen have a fair chance of proving themselves as a new chapter beckons in Indian football? 

Sanjoy Sen Mohun Bagan I-League

Let's take Sanjoy Sen's example here. The 56-year-old jousted against the riches of Bengaluru FC and the prowess of Ashley Westwood to land Mohun Bagan their first top-flight title in 13 years in the 2014-15 season. Having lost out narrowly in the next season, he is now on the threshold of winning his second I-League title. 

Khalid Jamil, meanwhile, after several years of mediocre performances with Mumbai FC, reinvented himself at Aizawl FC and has led The People's Club from relegation to the doorsteps of the I-league title. The Kuwait-born former India international's shrewd team selections, recruitment and tactical flexibility has been vindicated as we near the season end. 

Thangboi Singto has also had a refreshing approach at Shillong Lajong. He has immense faith in his young players, fielding up to eight U-22 players often during the games and still has managed to reach the fifth position in the table, just two points behind defending champions Bengaluru FC. 

The ability and promise in local coaches are there to see for all and it is only trust that they need. Yes, the foreign coaches are more reputed and proven in the bigger stages but the decision to snub an Indian for a foreign coach should be made out of choice rather than out of regulations.

Who knows, a Khalid Jamil or a Sanjoy Sen might surprise a lot of people! 

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