Two years back, Abinash Ruidas found himself in a similar situation to what Jobby Justin is currently experiencing.
Ruidas was selected by Mumbai City FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) player's draft but his transfer could not be completed since East Bengal was reluctant to issue the ‘No Objection Certificate (NOC)’ after claiming that the winger had another year’s contract with the club while the player instead spoke otherwise.
Ruidas filed an official complaint that East Bengal had forged his signature and shared alleged fake contract papers with the Indian Football Association (IFA), which is the West Bengal’s governing body for football.
To resolve matters, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) stepped in and stated that the IFA had no say on the inter-state transfer of the player. They further formed a special committee who ruled that IFA's decision to allow East Bengal to register Ruidas on the grounds of possession of 'Token' provides the club with the legal right is erroneous since there was no valid, written, enforceable and binding contract to go with it. And they termed IFA's actions as 'unreasonable and unjust'.
After much delay, East Bengal issued a NOC to Ruidas allowing him to join Mumbai City FC. Moreover, the Mumbai franchise didn’t have to shell out any transfer fee whatsoever.
Similarly, after Jobby Justin announced that he was joining ISL side ATK for the upcoming, East Bengal went on to claim that the striker had penned a two-year agreement with them and therefore was not free to play for ATK. However, Justin put out a statement categorically denying East Bengal's claims and ascertained that the only agreement he has signed is with ATK.
But the Player Status Committee of IFA has announced that since Justin has got into a pre-contract agreement with East Bengal he has no choice but to wear the Red and Gold jersey next season.
"Jobby himself had sent a signed letter to East Bengal stating that he wants to play for the club and the club had also agreed to the proposal. We had verified the signature through a handwriting expert and have come to the conclusion that the signature is of the same person. Therefore, the Player Status Committee has decided that Jobby must play with East Bengal," said IFA secretary Utpal Ganguly.
Justin might appeal to IFA to hand over the documents on the basis of which the decision has been taken.
But considering the bigger picture, it is pertinent to raise a few questions regarding the irregularities in which transfer negotiations are being carried out.
In the previous season, East Bengal were handed a transfer ban over the inconsistencies in their attempts to sign defender Sukhdev Singh from Minerva Punjab. On this occasion, East Bengal claimed that the defender had signed a 'draft contract' with the club which bound the player to play for them. Not only the club suffered but the concerned player was also suspended and had to pay a fine of Rs. 50,000 to AIFF and Minerva Punjab.
Recently, Chennai City had filed a complaint against FC Pune City, accusing the Stallions of securing Nestor Gordillo's signature without informing them. Pune has vehemently denied the allegations and the case is yet to be heard by AIFF's Player Status Committee.
In Justin's case, the very fact that the IFA has not taken into cognizance the approved legal formalities for a club and a player to enter into a contract and has instead founded their basis of judgment on letters exchanged between parties and not legal contract agreements is surprising.
When the 'Token' system has been stated archaic and not legally binding by the AIFF and even FIFA in the past, the fact that IFA keeps resorting to it is a mockery of the Indian footballing fraternity.
When transfer and contract rules are clearly stated in black and white, century-old organisations like IFA should stop following such archaic practices.
For the betterment of Indian football, it is high time that all concerned parties including players adopt a more matured and proficient approach.