AIFF’s relentless conundrum endangering national team's FIFA qualifiers

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AIFF’s relentless conundrum endangering national team's FIFA qualifiers

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Subhayan Dutta

07/29/2019

An idealist believes that the short run doesn’t count, while a cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. But, a realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run pretty much determines the long run.

The clutch of players seeming responsible for Indian football’s future could be divided into two of the above school of thoughts. The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) could clearly be considered as the idealists, who have been “somewhat” pushing the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to take up the promotion and relegation system which is the right way and the only way to go forward, where all the clubs would get equal treatment and the playing field would be leveled in the long future. 

The realists in this case, although not entirely, would encapsulate the AIFF and Reliance arm - Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL). Both of them are concerned with the bigger picture willing to overlook the casualties that they would leave in its wake and while it is hard to determine whether their reasons stand from short-sightedness or financial gain, their intentions cannot be questioned.

As has often been the case with life, there are pros and cons to everything and keeping the premier football league in India a closed one isn’t an exception either. A lot has been debated over the last few weeks with a viable solution still missing for the breakthroughs suggested have either been idealistic or too realistic when I believe, it should have the priority to introduce the cynic in this malaise as well for he is the only concerned with the immediate future in most certainty.

The truth regarding the immediate future of Indian football is that even before the I-League and the Indian Super League start and whether their AFC status is decided or not, Igor Stimac and his boys would be welcoming Oman and Bangladesh and visit to Qatar for their immensely crucial FIFA Qualifiers. And the fact that there is hardly any uproar or concern about Stimac’s decision to not play a single international friendly in the meantime in order to keep his “surprising element” in the main draw only shows how far the fans and the administration are blinded by the ongoing rift between the AIFF and the I-League clubs.

It is known that the Croatian has tried 35 players over a course of five matches before he claimed to have finally found his ideal eleven but factor this - Stimac has never played the same central defending duo throughout the five matches he has managed. While Sandesh Jhingan and Rahul Bheke started against Curacao in the King’s Cup, Jhingan paired with Adil Khan against Thailand. In the Intercontinental Cup, Stimac fielded Narender Gahlot with Adil Khan against Tajikistan, Jhingan and Subhasish Bose against DPR Korea, and Gahlot with Bheke against Syria.

Hence, unless and until Stimac is secretly one of the managerial greats that the footballing world has ever seen, who could identify the perfect combo by witnessing it just once, India are literally screwed. The reason why defence is taken into account more than the attack, which has obviously seen numerous changes as well, is because the uncertainty that Stimac would face against three new opponents. Even if his forwards afforded to miss chances here and there, conceding silly goals, as was evident in the Intercontinental Cup, wouldn't be an option for Stimac.

To further exacerbate the situation, certain I-League clubs and all ISL clubs have decided to field their reserve teams in the Durand Cup, which is coincidentally the only preparatory tournament ahead of the FIFA Qualifiers now that the Super Cup has been postponed until after the season. Hence, while a Kerala Blasters are planning to travel to UAE for their pre-season with their players, Stimac and his scouts would be combing through the Durand Cup and the Calcutta Football League. And it is quite disbelieving how the management of the oldest and most prestigious tournament in the country has not objected to sides deciding fielding second-tier teams.

India have been quite lucky to be grouped with a trio of countries two of whom, despite being difficult opponents, don’t give out vibes of invincibility. While India are a better team on paper than Bangladesh with the new crops emerging, Oman have bowed to India in the recent past hinting to the fact that they are beatable. 

Hence, any fumble on the biggest stage by India in the coming months would largely be seen as a fault on AIFF’s part as they remain incompetent to keep the sporting and political aspects separate, rather than Stimac or the players’.

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