2012 Indian Football Year In Review: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
In the final part of Sportskeeda’s review of Indian football in 2012, we look at the highs, lows and controversies of this calendar year.
2012 saw the end of the glittering international career of Bhaichung Bhutia in style as India played a friendly against the first team of Bayern Munich. Although India lost the game 4-0, Bhaichung was given a fitting farewell. A new era also started with the appointment of Dutchman Wim Koevermans, who guided the team to Nehru Cup success in his very first assignment.
The age group teams generally tend to do well and that was seen in 2012 as well, with the India U-22s, coached by Australian Arthur Papas, narrowly missing out on qualification for the U-22 Asian Cup. The U-16s bowed out of the group stage but got credible draws against Syria and China. Despite being still neglected, the women’s national team once again showed their capabilities by winning the SAFF Cup and ended the year in 52nd spot in the FIFA Rankings.
While clubs still struggle to come up with academies, thanks to the support from FIFA, the first AIFF regional academy came up in Navi Mumbai. The FIFA development office has also been set up in New Delhi, but to top it all the AIFF also submitted its bid for hosting the 2017 U-17 World Cup following assurances from the Government. Winning the hosting rights will be a massive boost for the infrastructure, as new stadiums will come up.
The quality of foreigners arriving in the I-League improved significantly with World Cuppers, a former EPL player and current internationals joining Indian teams. A three year broadcast deal has ensured that the I-League is now being telecasted nationwide with the additional option of watching games online from anywhere in the world.
India captain Sunil Chhetri earned a move to Portuguese outfit Sporting Lisbon ‘B’ while India internationals Subrata Pal, Mehtab Hossain and Gurpreet Sandhu also had training-cum-trials abroad. Teenager Brandon Fernandes though made the most headlines by having a trial at EPL club Reading. India U-16 striker Uttam Rai also earned a six-month training stint at Colorado Rush in USA and became the youngest Indian sportsperson to be sponsored by ‘Nike’.
Off the field, the rumours of Shahrukh Khan’s interest in buying stakes in Dempo gave some much needed publicity to the Goan club and Indian football in the mainstream media. Ronaldinho also made his first visit to India as he was in Pune for the announcement of the movie ‘R10 – The Movie’.
Savio Medeira’s reign as India head coach ended in disastrous fashion as India got knocked out from the group stage of the AFC Challenge Cup, losing all their matches. Medeira blasted the players for lacking commitment in front of international media but yet was kept as the assistant coach.
The congested domestic and international calendar, which included a needless Caribbean Tour, was the main reason for the debacle in Nepal, since the 2011 Asian Cup had fatigued several national team players. Under Koevermans there seems to have been an improvement in the planning but the last minute cancellation of the Yemen friendly in November, which denied India a match on a FIFA match date, showed that we went two steps back again.
Performance at the AFC Cup was once again disappointing as East Bengal lost all six of their matches while Salgaocar managed just four points. But the biggest disappointment was missing out on a spot in the AFC Champions League for the second straight season. I-League winners Dempo were even denied a play-off spot as India’s domestic league failed to meet the AFC criterion.
Infrastructure problems was evident in 2012 also as the three big centers of the I-League – Kolkata, Mumbai, Goa had serious issues with their venues. While new floodlights were not instilled in Kolkata, which meant afternoon kickoffs in the summer, Mumbai’s Cooperage Stadium failed to meet its deadline of being ready for the I-League. In Goa, the failure to come up with an ideal alternative for the Nehru Stadium in Margao, which is undergoing renovation for Lusophony Games 2013, eventually saw Dempo pull out of AFC Cup.
If that wasn’t enough, AIFF scored an own goal in the Federation Cup by naming Ranchi as one of the venues without even inspecting it. As a result when ground conditions were found to be unfit, Jamshedpur was selected as the replacement and the matches there turned out to be a disaster because they were played on conditions that could have easily caused career ending injuries.
Financial difficulties of the clubs were also exposed with United Kerala not paying their players for two months at the end of the 2011-12 campaign and are set to be disbanded like Mahindra United and JCT. Mumbai FC also had similar problems as they had failed to clear dues from last season with the new campaign having already started.
In March, D Venkatesh, a player of Bangalore Mars in the Bangalore District Football Association first division, died during a match after a cardiac arrest. Tragically his father was at the stadium and revealed that there was no ambulance in the stadium as his son had to be taken in an autorickshaw to the hospital where he was declared dead. It was the second football death in Bangalore in less than 12 months. A lesson certainly wasn’t learnt.
Age fraud has been a problem in Indian football in the past and 2012 was no exception as 84 out of the 120 boys selected in the U-14 category for AIFF academies were found overage with some of them even over 17. In another U-13 festival in Kalyani, organised to scout talents that would later represent India in the 2017 U-17 World Cup, 13 of the 25 participating teams had three or more overage players.
In another shocking incident, referee A Rowan, the man who officiated the Messi game in September 2011, was also beaten up by kids of an Afghanistan school in the Subroto Cup tournament.
Off the field there was more controversy as three players, who are India internationals – Jagpreet Singh, Baldeep Singh and Jaspal Parmar, were accused of raping a minor. Only Jagpreet were caught by the police and arrested. He remains in judicial custody as his bail plea was rejected while Baldeep and Jaspal are still absconding.
If the cancellation of the much-hyped Premier League Soccer (PLS), an IPL-style football league, was not enough, another project involving world famous stars gave India and Indian football a bad name. This time an event management group, who only previously had the experience of organising fashion shows, brought former Brazilian legends like Dunga, Edmilson etc. to play an exhibition match in Kolkata but shockingly the greats were not actually paid until the afternoon of the match. Over in Goa, Luis Figo had also come for a promotional event but only 5000 turned up to watch him play due to lack of promotion.
The year would also end in the ugliest fashion. On December 9, around 100,000 people gathered at the Salt Lake Stadium to watch the season’s first Big Kolkata Derby but close to halftime Mohun Bagan’s Syed Rahim Nabi, who was AIFF’s player of the year in 2012, was seriously hurt in the jaw after being hit by a missile from the stands. Down to ten and concerned about Nabi and their players’ safety due to clashes between their fans and the police, Mohun Bagan refused to take the pitch in the second half. They were in danger of a ban and after 20 days, the verdict was out. Asia’s oldest club was banned until 2015 from the I-League with their all their matches of the 2012-13 season declared null and void. The decision has come as a big blow to their enormous fanbase although the club officials remain hopeful of getting the punishment reduced.