BY RAHUL BALI Follow @rahulatma on twitter
Bhaichung Bhutia wants the players to ply their trade in both the I-League and the much talked about new tournament conceptualised by the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) marketing and commercial partners in IMG-Reliance.
He acknowledged that due to the stand-off between the clubs and the organisers of the new tournament, the players are in a quandary where they have to choose between the two options which isn’t ideal for them.
He was quick to dispel any doubts that the selection process for the national team would get hampered as a consequence of the above mentioned issue.
“Around the world, there is the European Champions League being played and Premiership played simultaneously. The same players play in the European Champions League and Premiership as well. It doesn’t hamper in terms of selection and the quality. Yes, the players should be playing and that is very important. I wish...If you look at the players here, if you make a team out of these 38 players, it is as equally as good as the national team players. The quality we have in these 38 players I just saw, ninety percent of them can easily walk into the national team (if) given a right platform,” said Bhutia.
"We want a lot of good players from the I-League to come and play in the new tournament and we also want a lot of these players playing in the I-League. The club and the new tournament organisers have to come together and make sure that players get to play in both the tournaments,” he added.
The 36 year old urged the clubs to look at the broader scenario and not just concentrate on issues concerning their team alone.
“I think we should not just focus on what my club benefits. We need to look at the larger picture of Indian football. At the moment, we need a tournament which can spice up, which we can bring in sponsors, bring in crowd to the stadium and which can motivate the young generation to come and play the game. We must come together rather than having those big egos kept. A lot of the smaller and medium range clubs suffer.”
He highlighted the issues plaguing the I-League and gave the example of the reigning champions who are without a title sponsor.
“The big clubs, they will have the money and (to) go on and play the I-League. But there are a lot of the clubs who do not have that kind of money and would suffer. If you look today at Prayag United, they are struggling and have not formed a team this season. They are in I-League and they don’t have players to sign, they don’t have the sponsors. There are a lot of other clubs. Churchill Brothers, who are the winners of the I-League, are without a sponsor. So there are problems and they need to look beyond and make sure we work together. The betterment of Indian football is what we really have to look forward to.”
The I-League clubs have refused to associate with any player who has been signed by IMG-Reliance and as a result, the 38 players roped in by the latter aren’t guaranteed competitive football for most part of the year. Bhutia believes that should there be no consensus reached between the two parties in the near future, there is a possibility of the players being registered as a club to participate in various tournaments or head for a training camp on foreign shores.
“(It will be a) big setback for players who don’t get to play for a longer time. Sitting six-to-seven months out is a very, very bad thing. But I’m sure if that really happens, there is something which can be worked out. We can form a team and play different tournaments. There is no lack of tournaments like a Durand Cup. We can also make a trip (abroad). It’s a loss for both the I-League and the Reliance tournament, because you want the best of the I-League playing the Reliance (tournament) and you want the best players of Reliance (tournament) playing the I-League.”
Bhutia is of the opinion that the country’s top division league would suffer due to lack of quality with the cream of the talented players having pledged alliance with IMG-Reliance.
“If you have 38 good quality players not playing the I-League, the I-League is going to suffer. Quite a lot in terms of quality and big names not being there I-League clubs would suffer. Already I-League is suffering in terms of quality and sponsorship. We need to look beyond at the larger picture and somewhere a compromise comes in is so that the players don’t lose out in playing just because my club has to survive and I have to survive. We need to make sure that the I-League clubs have to be flexible. Not the big ones but the smaller ones. There are quality players that can give them good service. I think they can take these players.”
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