BY AYUSH SRIVASTAVA Follow @ayush_sri on twitter
The past few months have seen Indian football capture the interest of mainstream media in a way not seen in a long while, with the topic under discussion being the much touted IPL-style league by IMG-Reliance.
While fanciful reports have surfaced, claiming that the league would bring the likes of Raul, David Beckham and Michael Owen to Indian shores, it is the ongoing rift between the I-League clubs and that of All India Football Federation's marketing and commercial partners that has garnered all the attention.
With the new IMG-Reliance league hoping to grab all the eye-balls, it has largely threatened to relegate the already floundering I-League to an afterthought, which has agitated the Indian club owners, who have invested money over the past several decades, with no sustainable return on investment.
With no guarantees forthcoming on how these clubs would benefit from a league by IMG-Reliance, the I-League Professional Football Clubs Association (IPFCA) decided to not release players contracted to them for the IPL league, nor entertain those players who have pledged their allegiance to the new league.
|THE "INDIAN FOOTBALL" DEBATE
|“Why do we need another league when you can’t sustain the present league? The motto should be to improve the standard of Indian football more than anything else, and to improve the I-League.” - Valanka Alemao (read more)
“For them (players who have been targeted by both I-League clubs and IMG-Reliance), it's a nightmare to choose the better of the two.” - Sunil Chhetri (read more)
“All the stakeholders are here for the betterment of football and IMG-Reliance is definitely here for the betterment of football. If there was no hope (for Indian football) they wouldn’t be here.” - Kushal Das (read more)
It was no surprise thus, when a newspaper quoted Wim Koevermans, the coach of the Indian national football team, weighing in with his opinion over the new league, and stated, “I can say and plan whatever I want, but the biggest threat now is the IMG-Reliance tournament. A lot of national players have signed contracts for the tournament and because of that the clubs won’t sign them.”
“So, what I’m facing at the moment is that the contracted players cannot train with the clubs and prepare themselves. And I have a game with the national team in August,” he further added.
As the aforementioned coach of the national team, it is only natural for the Dutchman to have a view about the matter, and the points he raised regarding the issues national team players were facing due to the present rift, were quite legitimate.
However the AIFF, which has granted recognition to the IPL-style league, obviously did not want to miff their marketing partners and a swift release followed, which rubbished any quotes which suggested that Koevermans had an opinion on the IMG-Reliance league.
Because of course, why would the national coach of India have an opinion on a matter which gravely affects the players he can call upon!
Unfortunately for the Dutchman, a news channel, which held a debate regarding the present Indian football scenario, showed a earlier recorded interview with him, which showed Koevermans clearly questioning how the I-League could survive in the face of a new league.
He was shown commenting, “We bring in another competition, which is conflicting with the I-League and then I ask the question what will happen to the I-League and I have my questions whether it will be good for the I-League, I am not sure of it.”
While being quoted out of context has become the usual defense used to rubbish anything that has put a spokesperson in an uncomfortable position, being recorded and video-taped saying so, left little room for doubt, on where the Dutchman stood, with regards to the current tussle.
Like any well-informed person with some standing in the game, Koevermans has every right to have a view regarding the developments in Indian football, even if they do not tally with the AIFF’s line.
But the fact that Koevermans did not come out to clear the air himself, but allowed the AIFF to send out the aforementioned release, has snow-balled into a major embarrassment for the coach, when the channel clipping got aired, just a couple of days later.
It showed an alarming lack of conviction from the man who is supposed to steer the national team through choppy waters, submitting meekly to the national federation’s diktat.
What it also showed was how confusion is the by-word for the state of affairs in Indian football, as the clubs, the AIFF, IMG-Reliance and not to forget the players, are now clueless about what their next step should be.
As Sunil Chhetri pointed out, it is the footballers, who might be forced into choosing one or the other, who are probably having the most sleepless nights, as their next step could be decisive with regards to their future in the game.
With over 20 players having already signed with IMG-Reliance, it calls into question the future engagements of the national team itself, as with several of their top stars at the moment being consigned to playing for just 70 odd days in a year, the lack of match fitness would certainly be a factor in the future.
The present climate of distrust and confusion is infact not helping Indian football one bit, even if it is finally attracting some attention from popular media sources. It would thus be ideal if the situation is resolved at the earliest, as it would also prevent people of Wim Koevermans’ repute, being stuck in an embarrassing situation.
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