The centre-back had announced his international retirement following India’s exit from the AFC Asian Cup earlier this year.
The recently-appointed head coach of the Indian national team, Igor Stimac, had, prior to the King’s Cup, asked Anas Edathodika to come out of international retirement and represent the Blue Tigers again. The Kerala Blasters defender obliged and made himself available, earning a call-up for the national camp, as the team prepares to host the second edition of the Intercontinental Cup in July.
The Blue Tigers will play Tajikistan, North Korea and Syria in the second edition of the tournament hosted by the All India Football Federation (AIFF). Thie event will be held at the EKA Arena, Ahmedabad between 7-18 July.
Coming back to Edathodika’s return, is it a need of the hour, or will this move pegback the development of centre-backs like Salam Ranjan Singh, Rahul Bheke, Anwar Ali (Jr.) and Narender Gehlot?
Edathodika was known to be one of the best communicators on the pitch alongside Sandesh Jhingan, his Blasters teammate. Both players play with their heart on their sleeve and have a never-say-die attitude that complemented each other well. Goal-line clearances, last-ditch tackles and co-ordinated positioning was the order of the day, as India went on a run of 13 unbeaten games.
A little analysis of the appalling defensive frailties during the King’s Cup should also be made when the holistic viewpoint is being taken into consideration.
Stimac started Bheke as a centre-back and Pritam Kotal at right-back against Curacao, a match marred with positional errors and gaps left behind by the duo, as the Dutch-Carribean island took a 3-1 lead in the first half. The game ended with the same scoreline and called for desperate measures.
Adil Khan (R) put up a brilliant performance at the King’s Cup
Against Thailand, Adil Khan, after seven years, donned the national jersey to start the game alongside Jhingan in the heart of the defence as Bheke was pushed to the right. The Bengaluru FC player looked more comfortable and Khan and Jhingan played with more composure. Khan is similar to Anas in a lot of ways. He’s a fighter and is certainly a better passer of the ball, a trait that he inculcated when he played as a defensive midfielder for FC Pune City.
There were still frailties, though. India looked weak on the right side and time and again, it was down to Khan’s brilliance that the Blue Tigers did not concede. The team stood third and came back home after defeating hosts Thailand 0-1.
Edathodika’s return is certainly the need of the hour, but will also peg back the growth of others. It depends on the coach, though, how he wants to take this forward. The Kerala player, who made his international debut at the late age of 20s, has been injury-prone in the last couple of seasons and wasn’t at his peak during the AFC Asian Cup 2019, after which he had primarily announced his departure from the international circuit.
The move, though, will certainly push Khan out of the starting lineup again, who did everything right on his ‘second debut.’ He even created the goal for Anirudh Thapa with a sweet, low cross round the six-yard box, a delicacy the Chennaiyin FC midfielder thoroughly enjoyed. This will re-draw the temporary curtains on Khan’s resurging national dreams and what’s more disturbing is that he has certainly been one of India’s prime defenders in the last 3-4 seasons.
Waiting in line are Anwar Ali, Narender Gehlot, Salam Ranjan Singh and others that would’ve alongside Jhingan, formed the core of the defence, had Anas continued in retirement. It is understandable, though, from Stimac’s viewpoint. The new coach would like to play his best back four at least for the Asian Cup and World Cup Qualifiers that begin later this year.
On the contrary, Edathodika’s chances of participating in either of the two tournaments look slim. He would be 36 by the next edition of the Asian Cup and wouldn’t be the fastest defender in the nation by a mile. Looking at his injury record, would he manage to remain fit until then is also a question doing the rounds.
Also, looking at Ali’s last two seasons, a lot of Indian fans are gunning for the Indian Arrows defender to take the step up and become India’s protector for the next decade or so. Salam Ranjan Singh and Narender, too, will be up for chances. But, they all looks slim for now, if Anas manages to prove his fitness and durability at the camp.