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Indian Footballers Stand To Lose From Current Calendar

Sunday, 3 August 2014|Bhargab Sarmah

The first season of the much-hyped Indian Super League starts this October. To accommodate the tournament in the Indian football calendar, drastic changes have been made to the Indian season. The I-league has been pushed to a January start, while the Federation Cup, the fate of which was unclear until last month, will be held in December.


With 84 Indian players, many of whom are already contracted to IMG-R, set to feature in the Indian Super League, the new tournament will only feature a fraction of regular I-League players. The ones who had already signed up with the league, meanwhile, will have a tough task finding their way back into the I-League.


With the number of clubs in the Indian top-flight cut down to 10 following the non-fulfillment of the AFC Licensing criteria of a few clubs, the pool of players in the Indian top-flight will also come down. Quite a few players from the barred I-League clubs will certainly be brought in by other clubs before the season, thus reducing the options in the I-League for some of the IMG-R contracted players.


When it comes to the players already contracted to the I-League, a vast majority of them, including some of the regular and prospective national team players, will be out of competitive football action until late-December. With the last league season having finished in April, this means most I-League players wouldn’t have played competitive football for 8 months by the time Federation Cup kicks off!


In today’s day and age, it is not only shocking, but downright foolish, that top-flight footballers are kept out of action for eight straight months due to a poorly planned out season calendar. At a time when the I-League seemed to be peaking in quality and competitiveness, the 2014-15 calendar will not only bring down interest in the top-flight, but will also affect the fitness and quality of the players.


However, while the prospect of our footballers not having any competitive action for two-thirds of a year is staggering, it is not even the biggest of concerns for India’s international footballing interests.


With the I-League kicking off in late-January, assuming there will be no more postponements to the commencement of the Indian Super League, it looks highly likely that the Indian top-flight season will run into June. Now it is no secret that the months of April, May and June constitute three of the four warmest months in India.


With I-League possibly adding one more side to its roster through a corporate entry, it seems quite possible at this point that an 11-team I-League will be completed within less than five months, with three months of football in the warmest Indian months.


The crammed I-League schedule, that too in the warmest period of the summer, raises an alarming possibility of quite a few players suffering from injuries and burnouts by the time the I-League culminates in June next year. Even if the officials at AIFF and IMG-Reliance would like to downplay any such possibilities, the threat to players’ fitness looks quite real, and it would be suicidal to ignore it.


Moreover, the Indian internationals who will be playing in the Indian Super League, will have two and half extra months of football ahead of the crammed league season. The fitness issues that these players are likely to face are grave, and cannot be undermined at any cost.


India’s first games in the qualifying rounds for the 2018 World Cup will start in June, next year. While, realistically speaking, there isn’t a very bright chance of India making it to the final qualifying rounds, unless the Blue Tigers manage to avoid more than one continental heavyweights in their group in the draw of lots, the scheduling of the I-League will further reduce India’s chances of moving past the 40-team round.


Even if the international players do manage to keep themselves free of injuries or burnouts by the time the World Cup qualifiers start next summer, the last few months of the I-League will already have taken a lot out of them.


Any sensible team would prepare for the qualifiers by spacing out its league games, holding them in the period comfortable to the players, and making sure the players are in the right shape, physically, and in the right frame of mind, before heading to the games. However, the initial stage of India’s qualifying already looks sabotaged, thanks to some poor planning at the administrative level.


The most productive months for league football have been taken up by the Indian Super League, and some of the country’s prospective international players will be engaged in the rather amateurish action from October to December at the cost of their physical fitness, for the sake of ‘popularizing’ Indian football.


While the Indian Super League has received some decent media coverage in the country in recent weeks, its scheduling has clearly been poorly thought out, something that has reportedly not gone down well even with the likes of Rob Baan and Wim Koevermans.

It is one thing to start a new tournament to try and bring people into the game, and completely another thing to jeopardize the country’s entire league structure, the future (short-term, at least) of the national team and the best players of the country, through an ill-conceived competition.