The newly proposed league, proposed by the marketing and commercial partners of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), IMG-Reliance, seems to be so contentious, it has pit some of the most prominent stalwarts from the world of Indian football at logger-heads over the basic impact of the league.
Amongst the long list of eminent footballers to take a swipe at opponents of the league is former Indian skipper Bhaichung Bhutia. The cult icon, while speaking to The Telegraph on Thursday, opined that unlike some persons, who believed that the IMG-Reliance league would ruin Indian football’s standards, he forecasted the contrary and believed the new league will help football, as a whole, gain popularity in the cricket mad nation.
“There is no point blaming the IMG-R league…that’s a wrong way of looking at things. Had someone said it in January, I would have still accepted it. Why single out only a bunch of players? There were several other players, who did not play too many competitive matches before the SAFF tournament,” expounded Bhutia.
It is widely believed that he aimed his pot shot in reply to the comments of national coach Wim Koevermans, after the South Asian Football Federation’s (SAFF) final, which India lost to Afghanistan. Koevermans outlined the problems the Indian football faced if the new league was implemented in his post-match media address.
“I am really worried with the situation we have in India right now. It’s a threat for the national team. Two boys from disbanded Arrows, five from IMG-Reliance and one from Mumbai Tigers would be without clubs.
“Now what are these boys supposed to do? Just practice? And how do I react to this situation as a national coach?,” a tense Koevermans expressed.
Bhutia, chairman of AIFF’s technical committee, then took it upon himself to contort directly to the Dutchman’s observations by stating, “I watched the match on television. (Syed Rahim) Nabi and Gouramangi Singh were outstanding. Nirmal Chettri and Subrato Paul also played well. All of them did a good job.
“IMG-Reliance players were not the only ones who did not play competitive football before the SAFF championship. What about Jeje (Lalpekhlua) and Sunil Chhetri?”
Bhutia also took pains to explain how the league would impress a large wedge of the population to watch the usually overlooked sport in India. “More people will come to watch the matches, better players will be seen in action and sponsors would be encouraged to back the game.”
“Even the leading teams are struggling,” pointed Bhutia, who was referring to how a lack of viewing audience, coupled by a pull out of the sponsors impacted the top teams in the I-League, the country’s national league.
On the topic of the SAFF final, Bhutia regretted India’s lack of composure in front of goal. “It was all about converting chances. In the previous final in Delhi, we converted our chances and won the match. It was the other way round in Kathmandu.”
“Why did Bob (Houghton) succeed? It was because he was allowed to hold longer camps. Koevermans should also do the same. The AIFF would have to make adjustments in its calendar to do so. Otherwise, we would never be able to produce the desired results in international football,” explained Bhutia, India longest serving captain, specifying his case for longer training camps for the national team.
The interview concluded by Bhutia choosing to steer clear of unchartered waters when asked if Sunil Chhetri should have started the match. “I can’t comment on that,” came the reply.
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