AIFF: (A)iming to (I)ncreasingly (F)luidate positive Indian (F)ootball
Written by: Punit Tripathi
The AIFF is Indian football’s governing body and has time and again proved that it cares little about the players and their well-being. . .
Indian Football’s FA Cup and Copa Del Rey substitute, the Federation Cup started on 07th May this year and is already in its final stage. The Final is set to be played on 21st later this month and will be a battle between heavyweights, Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC. We’ve seen a lot of fans raising their voice on social media against what is wrong with Indian football and why isn’t it growing on the right track; HERE’S WHY.
Every team had to play three games in six days in the hot and humid conditions of Cuttack. The ground was not amazingly full for any game, and it defied all logic to take India’s premier club tournament to a city which is not known to have great football endorsers. For starters, we approve the fact that the governing body is trying to widen the horizon, which is certainly a positive attempt.
Coming to the scheduling aspect, a game every second day is such poor representation of a country’s footballing scenario; much worse when you’re trying to move to better avenues. In humid conditions under temperatures as high as 42 degrees Celsius, it is inhumane to ask players to play a game in under 48 hours. In retrospect, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has time and again cribbed about the congested schedule his team has had to face this season, and at no point, they’ve had to play a game in less than 48 hours time.
Comparing European conditions with the kind of services provided here in India will be a joke, so we’ll not go there (expecting the readers to already know the massive difference). According to medical experts, any player needs 2-3 days of rest (minimum) to fully recover and get the muscle power back to its optimum level, if not more. Do you understand why we’re not being able to play at the highest level? The reason is the scheduling. The players are not at their physical best at any point and thus, cannot perform to the best of their abilities.
JSW CEO Parth Jindal has written a letter to AIFF Secretary Kushal Das highlighting the same. The Bengaluru FC owner rightly pointed out that amongst others, the poorly-managed tournament has had its after-effects and ruined the rest of the season for India skipper Sunil Chhetri, who looks to be out of contention for the important AFC Asian Cup qualifier against the Kyrgyz Republic in June.
JSW CEO Parth Jindal wrote this letter to Kushal Das perfectly highlighting the problems faced by Indian players
Let’s move on to India’s ‘premier’ league, the I-league. The representatives of some of the I-League clubs also spoke about the awful organisation of the tournament by the AIFF, with Mohun Bagan revealing the poor conditions in which these teams are forced to operate in. In an open letter, Bagan spoke about how they were forced to train in the scorching afternoon sun in Ludhiana when they travelled to play Minerva Punjab.
The Mariners reached Punjab at 4 am on Friday morning after playing at Shillong on Wednesday and wanted to practice in the evening from 4:30 pm to 6:30 PM. Instead, they were told by Punjab's representatives that only a slot of 12 noon to 1 pm was available. The Mariners wrote to the AIFF about this, but didn't get any response and were forced to train in those extreme conditions.
To put things in perspective, let’s take a look at how difficult travelling is in Indian football. Manchester United travelled to Anderlecht which is a bus ride from club/team hotel to the airport, a flight to Belgium and then a bus ride to the team hotel covering about 715 kilometres. Here in India, Mohun Bagan had to make a car/bus ride of 100 kilometres from Shillong to Guwahati, take a flight to Punjab and another ride from the airport to the team hotel, covering an odd 2245 kilometres, which is like traveling to a different continent in the Far West.
Being Indian football's governing body and ignoring these obstacles is a huge mistake. The fact that the schedule has been made so stringent to slot in the cash-rich Indian Super League gives a greyish picture and suggests other motives of the AIFF.
In an exclusive interview with Khel Now, Churchill Brothers' CEO Valanka Alemao also spoke about the fixture congestion. "Normally, (in the past) the league used to start in September and run for six-seven months. Overseas player used to get time to acclimatise to all the aspects, but in the last few years, the league starts in January and by February, more than half the season is over. I look at this more as a tournament than a league. Everything is squeezed. It is like they want to finish it as soon as possible. So how can we expect them (players) to perform instantly? It takes time because players need proper time to recover from injuries and also need proper rest after travelling but they don’t get the same due to tight fixtures," she explained.
Let’s just look at the ISL now. A competition where six foreigners are allowed to be on the pitch, the tournament is not approved by the AFC as it does not adhere to the rules and regulations laid out by the continental body. The glamour, glitz and money it spins get a lot of audiences, but is it really doing any good to Indian football? The AIFF reportedly wanted a slot in the AFC Cup for the ISL winner, which was recently denied by the governing body.
In the Super League, most teams usually travel the night after the game (for away games) and usually find just one training session before every game, which is, more often than not, optional. It gives very little space to the Indian players to train with the foreign counterparts and doesn't really help them grow a lot. Yes, playing beside stalwarts like Forlan and Anelka have helped them grow, but a more diverse schedule will surely lead to better results.
The AIFF has spoken about how it plans on making the I-League a top Asian league in the next few years, but the awful organisation of fixtures say something different. If this continues in the long run, we might well see the ISL being merged with the I-League and taking over as the premier division of Indian football where "entertainment" matters more than the development of football.
For, at a time when the I-League is fighting for its identity and pride of place, if the AIFF itself does not take the competition seriously, it will struggle to find takers in the other stakeholders in Indian football.
Published: Tue May 16, 2017 11:41 AM IST