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The hope that players from Arrows would ply their trade in the IPL-style league goes up in smoke...

It’s a welcome relief for players of the Pailan Arrows to learn that the Indian Super League (ISL), a two and a half month long league promoted by the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) commercial and marketing partners in IMG-Reliance, has been postponed until September next year.

Let’s do a quick recap of events. The Indian FA formed Pailan Arrows so that the best young talent in the country gets regular opportunity and they form the core group of the players who shall represent the country in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers scheduled to be held 2015 onwards.

Following the financial troubles of the Pailan Group, the AIFF decided to disband the outfit and allow the players to join the rest of the I-League clubs.

Around this time, most of the players had agreed terms with the clubs for a new deal which was a lucrative one, much better than their existing contract with the AIFF.

In came IMG-Reliance questioning the decision of the AIFF and following some more discussions, it was concluded that the club shall continue for another year with the players to be released for the ISL in January next year.

There was a twist in the tale all over again as the Pailan Group couldn’t submit the financial guarantees the AIFF rightly demanded and it was back to square one as the club was nowhere in existence.

Ideally if a club is disbanded, the players’ contract automatically becomes null and void but not in this case as the agreement was with the AIFF per say. Nowhere in the contract was it stated that they would play for ‘Pailan Arrows’ but mentioned that the player will have to play in matches which shall include “Tournaments, League, Trophy, Exhibition Matches, Tours or otherwise which may be scheduled or organised and/or controlled or held by AIFF or conducted under the aegis of AIFF, AFC or FIFA.”

The AIFF, under pressure from IMG-Reliance to release the players for the ISL, informed the clubs on August 29 this year that the players from Arrows would be available on loan only until December 31st and would be once again obtainable from April 1st, 2014 onward.

There was no mention that the players will be released back to the AIFF so that they can be a part of the ISL – a league which was struggling to land in the marquee Indian players given the stand of the clubs not to associate themselves with any player who had pledged their alliance with IMG-Reliance’s initiative.

The clubs unanimously agreed not to accept the terms and conditions listed by the AIFF and the players’ ‘playing’ career was up in the air.

“It is shocking at the way the Federation is treating the so-called future of Indian football, leaving them high and dry till the last minute. We are open to taking these players but on our own terms and they shall not be loaned back,” one of the club officials responded.

IMG-Reliance intervened and invited the 26-member Arrows squad to train at the Cooperage Stadium, Mumbai and stated, “With none of the I-League clubs coming forward in last 12-days (to take Arrows’ players on loan), the future of these promising youngsters were appearing bleak. At this stage, IMG-Reliance took the decision to step in to help these talented youngsters. The IMG-Reliance management strongly felt that these youngsters – the future Indian footballers – need not go through the mental stress over the uncertainties and it would be ideal to have them here in Mumbai to continue focus on their skills, game and fitness.”

However this too didn’t last long as the players were to train at Kalyani Stadium, Kolkata earlier this month – a decision which was communicated to the AIFF.

India are to participate in two major competitions next year – the U-22 Asian Qualifiers (scheduled in July) and the Asian Games (in September-October). The Arrows squad would have formed the core of the national teams representing in the said competitions which meant that the players would have played just two and a half month of football in an entire year as part of their preparations!

It must be noted that when Mohun Bagan, who were the first to rope in players from the Arrows, the loan period was only until December 31st following which the players would have gone back to the AIFF who would have released them for ISL.

With the ISL no longer expected to kick-off this season, the AIFF shall extend the loan period for the Arrows boys until May 31st, 2014. Thereafter the players would be free to decide if they wish to join the IMG-Reliance bandwagon or the clubs plying their trade in the I-League.

“The players would be free agents by then and most of the players would opt to play in the I-League. This means IMG-Reliance aren’t guaranteed, as in the past, of getting the Arrows players for their league,” informed an official from the AIFF.

Although the AIFF has received enquiries for around 15 players to be taken on loan, some are on the radar of second division I-League clubs such as Bhowanipore as most teams in the top division don't have enough space on their roster.

What must be noted herein is that the players would have earned much better had they been allowed to seal their move to the I-League clubs in the summer – something which never saw the light of the day as the AIFF had to release the players for IMG-Reliance’s ISL.

So while a Shouvik Ghosh or Pritam Kotal maybe plying their trade back in the I-League, their earnings wouldn’t be on par with what they ought to be paid as per the market rate.

Who is responsible for this is anyone’s guess…

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