Tamil Nadu: How Indian football’s next powerhouse is being held back by bureaucratic wrangles

Guna SheelanGuna Sheelan

April 25 2018
(Courtesy : I-League Media)

A wealth of talent in the southern state is being denied the opportunity to shine on the national stage.

Born in the cricket-crazy state of Tamil Nadu, one would always play second fiddle whenever there was a debate about states and their contribution to Indian football. With the likes of Kerala, Kolkata, Goa and Punjab dominating the Indian football scene over the years, the state of Tamil Nadu doesn’t get a mention in the discussion. While others havr enjoyed their glorious past, Tamil football fans were left dreaming.

On the flip side, the Chennai Football Association and the Tamil Nadu Football Association were busy filing cases against each other. A rift between the two bodies meant there was no proper club football system in the state. These two governing bodies agreed to disagree on several subjects and as a result, Tamil Nadu football was left in  disarray.

Elsewhere in the state, near the city of Trichy, a defender started his journey to Goa. But agony didn’t spare him as he had to resign from his job at the Indian Bank and lose his spot on the team from the same organization, who were then playing in the top division of the state themselves. His resignation meant giving up on his financial security.  Had he not made that sacrifice, Tamil Nadu would not have had a Dharmaraj Ravanan.

Crushing moment for the fans

Fly over to the west, Harry Redknapp received a phone call from a scout, who told him he has just watched the best talent he had seen in his 30 years on the job. It was nobody else but Exeter City’s 15-year-old Ethan Ampadu, who was wanted by many top teams back then. Eventually, Chelsea made the highest offer and a move took place without any complications.

Let’s travel back to Tamil Nadu. Chennai City, who entered the I-League in 2016-2017, tried to sign players who they deemed quality from other teams in the CFA Senior Division. One of the talents they went after was Reagan Albarnas. The striker had an impressive goalscoring record for the state. When the A&E (Office of the Accountant General) employee who was then playing for the same side in the Senior Division was approached, they didn’t release him initially for the fear of not having him during the state league. Then he was released, only to be called back after a few weeks.

The CFA Senior Division League is a popular football league in Chennai

For a talent like Reagan, it would have been an ideal move. But if he had to feature in the I-League, he had to leave his central government job. “After a lot of struggle, we signed Reagan from A&E. But, before he played 10 minutes for us, A&E called him back. How would the state’s football develop when the best in the state can’t play in country’s top division?” one Chennai City official asked.

“There are so many problems, but the officials at the TFA and the CFA do not bat an eyelid. They are busy in their own issues,” he added. Football fans in the state who were well aware of the striker’s capabilities were left heartbroken as they came to know that he won’t be available for their local club.

What is the problem?

Players who have represented Tamil Nadu get ‘appointed’ in state and central government organizations such as the railways, food corporations, ICF and customs – who also happen have teams participating in the Chennai League. Although, they are semi-professional sides, these organizations do not release these players to ply their trade in the country’s highest tier league.

Surprisingly, Pradeep Mohanraj, another A&E employee from Kolkata was able to get a No Objection Certificate to play in the I-League while his counterpart from Chennai could not. Ravanan explained the situation, “Do not compare Pradeep and Reagan.” “In Kolkata, these government organizations do not compete in the Calcutta Football League,” he pointed out.


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Is it right to question these organizations?

Financial security is the mantra that rings a bell for every Indian. Born in a country which has been cruel to many sportspersons over the years, the financial security provided by these government organizations has to be respected and it should also be understood that these teams have the rights to keep their employees.

It’s up to the players to chase their dreams, put behind their doubts, believe in their talent and go after glory like the legendary Raman Vijayan did. The iconic striker spoke to Khel Now about the issue.

“It is up to the CFA teams to release them in the first place. Then it is a player’s decision. If he wishes to make a professional career, he should take a certain level of risk to go behind his dreams. It would affect the lives of many footballers if these CFA teams are accused,” he asserted.

“If Chennai City and Chennaiyin are interested in playing local players, they should try to create talent. They should not sign them from CFA teams and try to steal the limelight,” he further added.

Quality of players in Tamil Nadu

Players around the state wish to come to Chennai, play there for some time and then get picked in the government teams. There are times when players play as guests for a government team, hoping that they might get an appointment for a job. The fact that only the best of the state play in the Senior Division, the quality of the league cannot be questioned.

The Senior Division is the most sought-after league in the state. With many government firms competing, the league has improved leaps and bounds when it comes to quality. With a huge pool of players to pick from, only the best get to play in the division.

Michael Soosairaj is one of the local talents in Chennai

Players like Vijayan, Ravanan, Sabir Pasha, Dhanpal Ganesh, Michael Soosairaj, Nandhakumar and Edwin Vanspaul Sydney have all played in the state, which speaks volumes of its quality.

Pasha decided to not leave his job as he rejected offers from various top Indian clubs and decided to stay at Indian Bank. He took a three-month leave from office to play in the Bangladesh league and eventually became the top scorer there.

Vijayan went on to become a recognizable name in both Kolkata and Goan football. The striker also went on to play for India later.

Another one to have plied his trade in Tamil Nadu, Soosairaj was one of the highest rated players in the I-League last season. Former Minerva Punjab technical director Joel Williams stated, “Soosairaj was the best. I could easily say Chencho (Gyeltshen) is the best, but I’m very honest when it comes to football. Soosairaj was by far the best.”

The need of the hour: A state league

A city league alone, even if it is of great quality won’t benefit the state as much as a state league would. The southern state doesn’t have a state league. Years back, there used to be Champions Trophy, where the top six teams of the Senior Division and the winners of another city league such as the Coimbatore league participated in a knockout tournament. However, the tournament is defunct now.