In a welcome change of stance, Koevermans has left back most players who have failed to attend a proper pre-season so far, and given new players a chance...
A lot has been said and written since India’s disastrous 2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers campaign, with the squad selected by Wim Koevermans coming under the microscope, with the general opinion that fresh blood needed to be injected in the squad.
Casting a further shadow in the build-up to India’s friendly against Tajikistan and the subsequent SAFF Championship competition was the divide between the I-League clubs and IMG-Reliance, which meant that many of India’s star international performers like Gouramangi Moirangthem, Subrata Paul, Syed Rahim Nabi and Nirmal Chettri amongst others, were left without an I-League club and no pre-season practice.
Of course, the Dutchman himself got caught up in the storm, when he stated that the IMG-Reliance tournament was a big threat to his plans for the national team, and was soon forced to rubbish those statements by an embarrassed All India Football Federation (AIFF), who had given the IPL-style tournament their nod.
However, by the looks of it, the coach has stuck to his guns in naming a 20-man squad for the Tajikistan friendly; omitting big names like Subrata Paul and Syed Rahim Nabi, as well as Pailan Arrows prospects like Alwyn George, as well as Sandesh Jhinghan amongst others, due to their delayed start to pre-season. Former United SC’s Indian internationals also find themselves out of the reckoning, for the same reason.
This is a welcome change from a past stance, when players who barely saw any league action walked into the team, leading to a certain level of complacency in the squad. Hopefully this shall continue once the I-League season begins.
A new look...and a new attitude?...
This should serve as an ominous warning to other players who are contracted to IMG-Reliance, because if the deadlock between the clubs and AIFF’s marketing partners is not resolved soon, these footballers will most likely end up having to forego national duty since three months of football in a year would leave them well short of match practice and fitness.
Gouramangi Moirangthem and Nirmal Chettri were the only IMG-Reliance players to make the cut, and Koevermans chiefly relies on them due to the experience and versatility they bring along.
What though has really caught the eye is that the Dutchman has finally given players like Dawson Fernandes, Lalrindika Ralte and Arnab Mondal a chance to stake a claim for a regular berth in the squad.
There is no questioning the fact that India is woefully short on quality strikers, and giving a youngster like Dawson Fernandes, who has shown flashes of class with Sporting Clube de Goa last season, is the way forward. To provide an opportunity to players from less fashionable clubs a game, based on their league performance is imperative.
East Bengal duo Lalrindika Ralte and Arnab Mondal though, have been a strange case. Strong performances, week-in and week-out in the league and AFC Cup have not been enough for Koevermans to give them a chance, until now.
Their repeated omission has often baffled people, since they are the kind of players that should, on paper atleast, add value to the Indian squad.
Ralte afterall, is one of the few Indian players, who look comfortable in possession. The former Indian Arrows player can dribble, pick a pass, and also can score from distance, and would be perfect for that position ‘in the hole’ that Koevermans has used the likes of Francis Fernandes and Alwyn George, to limited success.
Mondal meanwhile is the rock in the defense that India has never had the luxury of fielding since the former Netherlands International took over as coach. Bafflingly, his club mate Raju Gaikwad, who has often warmed the bench under Trevor Morgan at East Bengal, always got the nod infront of him, and has been persisted with, even after some really dodgy performances.
If given a game against Tajikistan though, all three will get the platform to prove their worth to the coach, and stake a claim for the 2013 SAFF Championship squad.
Regardless of the result in the friendly, the build-up itself has shown that the Blue Tigers may be ready to turn a new leaf after the Challenge Cup qualifiers debacle, with Koevermans firming his stance on player selection and giving new blood a chance to reinvigorate a faltering national team.
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