AFC Asian Cup 2019: Club form of India's squad hopefuls a worrying sign for Stephen Constantine

Most of India's established regulars have struggled for their respective clubs in the Indian Super League so far this season....

As Stephen Constantine gets ready to welcome his 30-man probable squad for a short training camp in New Delhi ahead of India’s friendly away to Jordan, he will be hoping that the international break can bring a change in fortunes for many of the squad members.

With the 2019 AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Asian Cup fast approaching, the time left for preparations and finetuning of the squad is ticking fast. But, in what is a worrying sign for the English coach, many of the players in the squad have failed to hit the ground running for their respective clubs in the Indian Super League (ISL) so far.

Only a handful, like skipper Sunil Chhetri with Bengaluru, Rowllin Borges with NorthEast United FC and Jackichand Singh can really claim to have been in good form in the early part of the season. 

Beyond them and a few others like Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Pronay Halder, the season is yet to really come alive for the rest of the players in the squad.

In defence, Anas Edathodika is yet to play a single minute with his new club Kerala Blasters but continues to remain central to Constantine’s plan for the AFC Asian Cup. Two of the other defenders called up in the squad in the form of Delhi Dynamos’ Pritam Kotal and Narayan Das have not covered themselves in glory while the club continues to remain without a single win.

The story is the same among the midfielders as well. Nikhil Poojari has only garnered a total of 177 minutes in the four appearances he has made for FC Pune City whose struggles continue unabated in the ISL. His team-mate Sarthak Golui has got more minutes under his belt but the fullback is part of a back-four which has failed to keep a single clean sheet all season.

Constantine had harped about the excellent development and progress of Anirudh Thapa earlier with the midfielder playing a key role for India in the SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) Cup in Bangladesh. However, the youngster has endured a dismal time with Chennaiyin FC despite being given a much greater role and more regular game time compared to last season.

Thapa has been one of the notable flops in the defending champions’ horrendous run and has been personally culpable for few of the goals conceded by his side so far. It has been an equally disappointing, if not more, campaign for his fellow Chennaiyin midfielder Germanpreet Singh who has failed to really stamp his authority despite being handed 304 minutes on the pitch this season.

While Bengaluru might be unbeaten under Carles Cuadrat, Udanta Singh has failed to grab a single goal or assist so far despite starting all five of his side’s games so far. While everyone keeps talking about Udanta's talent and abilities, he has hardly made good on his potential. He has to improve a lot on his final delivery in terms of assists or goals.

On the other hand, midfielder Vinit Rai has barely featured for Delhi this season after his promising campaign under Miguel Angel Portugal while Ashique Kuruniyan has blown hot and cold, mostly the latter, for Pune so far.

Up front, Jeje Lalpekhlua’s struggles for goals this season with Chennaiyin are all too well known with the striker looking down on confidence. Balwant Singh’s move to ATK in the summer has failed to pay off so far with the former Mumbai City man bagging just the solitary goal in his six appearances for the Kolkata club so far.

Sumeet Passi and Farukh Choudhary have been decent in the limited game time they have received under Cesar Ferrando at Jamshedpur FC but neither of them is a guaranteed starter for the club.

Halicharan Narzary had a good start to the season but then his form petered off for Kerala Blasters. Arindam Bhattacharya and Vishal Kaith, backups to Gurpreet, have also failed to impress this time around.

All in all, it has been a dismal ISL campaign for the bulk of the national team so far which is a worrying sign with not long left for the AFC Asian Cup.  What Constantine will now want is for the international break to reignite the flailing campaigns of his trusted men.