BY SARTHAK DUBEY Follow @SarthakDubey27 on twitter
Indian football celebrated a fairytale ending to 2013 with the announcement that India would be hosting the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup. This and few other positives from the year bygone support the claim that Indian football is finally entering, what the All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel calls, the era of change.
But was everything really hunky dory and clean? Were we completely controversy-free? Stories like the ‘Chit Fund Scam’ in Kolkata, Marcos Falopa’s fallout with East Bengal and IMG Reliance’s tensioned relations with I-League Professional Football Clubs Association (IPFCA) suggest otherwise. Here are the Top five controversies that sent shockwaves rippling through Indian football in 2013:
|IMG-Reliance vs IPFCA|
In a meeting that took place on 5th June in Mumbai, the I-League Professional Football Clubs Association (IPFCA) members unanimously decided that they will not sign any players from, or loan-out to the IMG-Reliance roster, and also threatened to ponder over starting their own league. The IPFCA can partly take credit for the postponement of IMG-Reliance’s proposed Indian Super League (ISL) as the AIFF's marketing and commercial partners could not find the right mix of Indian players to participate in the Indian Super League (ISL) due to the reluctance of Indian clubs to loan out their players to IMG-Reliance.
While the All India Football Federation (AIFF) was playing peacemaker between the two bodies, no clear-cut solution has so far been reached, though a lot has been breached - Mohammedan Sporting have now signed Syed Rahim Nabi, Ishfaq Ahmed, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Manish Maithani and Luis Barreto from IMG-Reliance and have thereby strained their relationship with the IPFCA. This was followed by Rangdajied United, Mumbai FC and Dempo SC.
All though both organizations claim to be working for the betterment of Indian football, this on-going war only showcases the dire need to have a coherent structure in place where all parties work smoothly together and come to a common consensus. IMG-Reliance, quite understandably, needs quick returns from the massive financial investment it has made towards Indian football. But is an IPL-style tournament that targets entertainment and urgent financial gains the right way forward? The IPFCA disagrees though it must be noted that some of its members have softened their stand lately. While it is claimed that a few clubs have shown their interest in the ISL, even the owners of the said clubs are not aware of the intricacies involved.
|Pre-Wedding Jitters? Mumbai Tigers Drop Out
The AIFF, following a thorough assessment granted a direct entry into the I-League to JSW owned Bengaluru FC and Dubai-based Dodsal Group owned Mumbai Tigers, provided they promise to fulfill certain criteria like youth academies and upgraded stadiums. While one team fantastically put together a meaningful plan and currently finds itself top of the I-League table, the other simply withdrew from the competition days before the tournament began. And the reason given was – ‘unavoidable circumstances’.
Mumbai Tigers shocked Indian football by pulling out of the I-League less than 20 days before the first game and hence reduced the number of participants from 14 to 13. The Mumbai based outfit informed the AIFF that they were not ready at the moment to participate and needed more time to prepare for participation.
While Bengaluru FC acted instantaneously and prepared well by announcing plan after plan and signing after signing, Mumbai Tigers never really came out with any specific details of how they planned to run the club. The problems were quite visible and the Dodsal owned club now find themselves in the I-League second division. To avoid such mishaps, the AIFF must consider making a thorough enquiry into the capacity of such clubs to deliver promises before granting them a direct promotion. The players have had to suffer the most as they were promised that the club would play in the I-League but instead find themselves playing some local tournaments in various states.
|AIFF’s Prejudice comes forth|
Last season, Mohun Bagan were a goal down against bitter rivals East Bengal in a hotly contested Kolkata derby, when a stone hurled from one of the stands (apparently aimed at the referee) hit midfielder Syed Rahim Nabi. The match resumed after a 13-minute stoppage towards the end of the first half, but Mohun Bagan refused to take the field after the interval as Nabi was treated for a fractured right jaw.
The I-League Core Committee banned Mohun Bagan from the I-League for two years for breaching of rules. But shockingly this year, the AIFF decided to revoke this ban and imposed a fine of 2 crore and a 12-point penalty on the Mariners. Would the AIFF revoke a 2 year ban if a Mumbai FC or Churchill Brothers abandoned a game? Was it because this was the mighty Mohun Bagan?
And in a hilariously bizarre turn of events, Mohun Bagan asked AIFF to review the 2 crore rupees fine imposed on them by retired Supreme Court Judge Justice AK Ganguly, who is now embroiled in a law intern molestation case! Mohun Bagan Managing Director Anjan Mitra sent a letter to AIFF President Praful Patel, asking him to review the judgment passed by Justice Ganguly on the ground of his “questionable integrity” as he has been accused by a young woman law intern of sexually harassing her. Cheeky, cheeky Bagan.
Another instance of the rules being changed was when the number of players to be registered in the I-League was increased to accomodate Mohammedan Sporting's request as they had roped in players from IMG-Reliance. Would the rules have changed had any other club decided to add players from any other source apart from IMG-Reliance? The request would have been termed 'ridiculous' and brushed aside.
|Pailan Arrows disbanded and players left hapless|
The Pailan Arrows were an interesting project at least on paper. The idea of developing Indian Under-23 players by forming an exclusive team and hence giving them I-League exposure seemed quite good. But financial constraints from the sponsors ultimately lead the Pailan Arrows into a dead-end. The players were contracted with AIFF but could not join I-League clubs as the teams were unanimously unwilling to loan the players on-board only up until January. The idea was to send these players to play in the ISL of IMG-Reliance though it was never mentioned by the AIFF in any written communication.
In came IMG-Reliance and invited the 26-member Arrows squad to train at the Cooperage Stadium, Mumbai. This training and fitness regime did not last too long as the players were sent away to Kalyani Stadium, Kolkata. However with the ISL getting postponed once again, the AIFF decided to extend the loan period for the Arrows boys until May 31st, 2014.
The controversy here is that although some of the players have been roped in by I-League clubs, there are still many of the boys from the Arrows squad who have not been picked by clubs and are hence forced to make their precious talents and time go unutilized. Add to this, most of the boys haven't been remunerated as well.
These boys, the predicted future of Indian Football, will form the core of the Indian side that competes at the U-22 Asian Qualifiers (scheduled in July) and the Asian Games (in September-October) next year. But without any significant match practice and an unsettled future staring them in the eyes, can these boys be expected to perform?
|The Chit Fund Scam Rocks United Sports Club|
This controversy might not directly relate to Indian Football but it certainly had a negative impact on one club’s financial resources. Suspected money laundering by managers of the Saradha Group’s chit-fund ventures, against whom cases had been registered for allegedly duping thousands of investors in different states, affected United SC’s primary sponsors Prayag Group.
With the chit fund going bust, people were looking to go to the company and ask back for all their money together. This obviously affected the club’s budget; the same club that one season ago had been termed the “Manchester City of India” with their big spending captures in the transfer market, most notably Ranti Martins.
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