Comment: Praful Shows Promise, But Much Left To Be Done...

With Praful Patel taking charge of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) last week, looks back at the highlight of his 10 month stay in the acting President’s post...
It was back in November 22 last year that Patel chaired the first Executive Committee Meeting in the absence of Priyaranjan Dasmunsi, who was on ventilator hoping for survival.

The elections for the post of Indian FA president was to be held before December 31 2008 and many emotional members wanted a postponement but as the Constitution stated that the elections had to happen within nine months of the end of the financial year.

Why the postponement? As they didn’t want to show disrespect to Dasmunsi! Just shows how professional is the manner of thinking at the top! Therein it was decided to give Praful Patel, the senior most vice-president, to take over the banter until the elections take place. The only nomination filed was that of Dasmunsi and hence was named as the President on December 23 2008 with Patel to continue in his capacity of the acting president.

Patel had a task at his hand as he went into damage control mode as the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Bharti and AIFF expired due to the lackadaisical attitude of his subordinates who have been inept to the core. 

“I have spoken to Sunil Mittal and he wasn’t very sure as to how to go about it as the academy has hit many blocks. But importantly, they are committed to the cause, and we shall re-ignite the interest in the academy,” said Patel optimistically back in July.

Indian sports ministry gave a helping hand to the AIFF when they decided to give ten crores for the preparation of the India U-23 team for the 2010 Asian Games. Have we ever heard of such grants coming in the past? Nope, and the credit goes to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader.

Even until July, many continued to doubt Praful Patel’s contribution as several insiders felt that it was their Bengalli dada (Dasmunsi) who was the ‘sole bread earner’ for the Indian FA. All such doubts were put to rest when Patel got the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to grant Rs. 25 crores to Indian football over the course of two years. Now who could have done that?

India national coach had mentioned that it was Praful Patel, in his very first Executive Committee Meeting where he chaired, floated the idea of keeping the national team together for a period of eighteen months. Though the move didn’t work due to financial and lack of clarity as to how to go about it, the ambitiousness and the tendency to think different from the outdated systems, which would make any enthusiastic individual pull his hair off, was a welcome change.

When the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) vice-president, Manilal Fernando met Patel to convey his message of strengthening the AIFF’s administration by helping its general secretary, Alberto Colaco and that any change at the top would be nothing less than suicidal. It was heartening to see that Patel stood his ground and sent a strong message to the outside forces that they needn’t interfere and that the Indian FA is more than capable of taking their own decisions.

Though there hasn’t been much happening in terms of promoting the I-League and Indian football as such, Patel took a creative decision in appointing ‘Sallu’ Salman Khan as the brand ambassador of Indian football. The Bollywood heartthrob even watched the Nehru Cup final against Syria at the Ambedkar.

The Mohun Bagan-Bhaichung Bhutia affair was mishandled and sent to the arbitrator who as of today hasn’t come out with the full verdict!  

The AIFF Emergency Committee set a deadline of August 31 for all the I-League clubs to fulfil the criteria sent by the AFC and follow a plan if they hope to participate in the prestigious Champions League.  However, the Indian FA, itself, hadn’t and still hasn’t yet complied with the stipulations mentioned in the AFC document!

It’s good news for Indian football fans to know the interviews for the post of I-League CEO is to take place however, one expects it to be fair and prays that no decision be taken on the basis of ‘recommendations’ by certain individuals, who have stagnated the system any which ways.

Alberto Colaco has mentioned that he wishes to leave the AIFF for various reasons and his contract expires at the end of the year. It’s essential that the search for the next general secretary goes into the next gear by conducting interviews. This would give the new candidate to get expert insights on how to run the AIFF from the Colaco and get acquainted with the system.

Praful Patel has done a ‘more than what’s expected’ job as an acting President and one expects him to continue to do so. And the first step will be to look for an able subordinate who shall implement and change the image of the AIFF into a professional house, who are working to promote and take Indian football to the next level. There are still many issues which have to be sorted before one can commend his appointment at the top. Verdict: 6.5 on the scale of 10.     

Rahul Bali.

Let us know what YOU think? How has Praful Patel Fared so far?