The national coach now faces a quandary over the right player to fill in at the helm of his team’s attack.
A goal-laden and taciturn I-League, India’s premier football competition has had Indian football fans in leaps and bounds as so far. Teams like leaders Salgaocar, Sporting Clube de Goa and a large list of clubs are following suit in banging in the goals. However a closer examination will dissect a larger problem that is beleaguering the striking talent at the disposal of the national team coach, Wim Koevermans as he gears his side up to face the Philippines and Nepal later this month.
However, no Indians are among the league’s top scorers. We have Josimar Martins who has scored seven followed by Darryll Duffy, Cornell Glenn and Sean Rooney each chipping in with six goals each. Dempo's Jeje Lalpekhlua and Churchill’s Balwant Singh are the joint highest scoring Indian strikers in the league, with three goals a piece.
India’s striking options for the upcoming friendlies include Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh, Victorino Fernandes and Jeje Lalpekhlua, who was drawn in at the last minute to replace the injured Dawson Fernandes. Out of these talented individuals, only Victorino has occasionally played in an out-and-out striker’s role this season. The rest of them have had to make do with either substitute appearances or being deployed in wider positions.
Take for example Sunil Chhetri, India’s potent forward who has been played regularly out of position on the left in a 4-3-3 system, by Bengaluru FC coach Ashley Westwood. Not being a predominantly left sided player, this has begun to reflect in his form as well, as he’s scored just two goals in seven matches this season, one of which was a penalty. Bengaluru FC have placed their faith in Australian Sean Rooney, who has duly accepted the mantle and amassed six goals in his tally of games so far.
Robin Singh, again of Bengaluru FC has been restricted to appearances from the bench and is yet to score although he did turn one into his own net against East Bengal. Lalpekhlua meanwhile, has excelled in being played as a winger in Arthur Papas’ 4-2-3-1 formation at Dempo with the lone striker again being a foreigner, Billy Mehmet.
Lalpekhlua has been a key figure for the Goan club as he has scored crucial goals against Salgaocar and Churchill Brothers which have earned him a couple of man of the match awards.
Victorino Fernandes seems the best bet given the versatility with which he operates within the Sporting Clube de Goa team. He has be used as a second striker based on his performances this season but again is capable of filling a gaping void up front. However, he is inexperienced and yet to make his senior debut.
The window of opportunity for an Indian forward looking to exceed in the strikers role is extremely thin, considering the fact that coaches too, in the effort to milk the maximum from their squad, choose foreign players believing they, like fixed deposits, often guarantee a fixed return. In all this arrangement, the Indian forward is overlooked or sacrificed for the greater good of the team.
This leaves coach Koevermans with a difficult and often unsavoury proposition considering the fact that he’ll have to choose players who play out of positions for such long periods of the season to lead the attack. Again, an undermining position taken up by the national coach which often compromises the squad quality.However, all is not lost and the coach will hope that a solid set of performances for the national team will convince coaches of the merits of Indian players in their favoured roles.
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