The exodus of Goan clubs highlights the mess in Indian football
Where do we go from here? Where are we going now?
A fiery Peter Vaz shot straight from the hip. “People at the AIFF, have never even kicked a ball. What will they know of football? Their office bearers come and go. It’s we the clubs, the football who will stay on.”
As World Football celebrates the game in the Europe and America with the two biggest continental tournaments viz. Euro and the Copa America, the same game in South Asia, is dying every day. Choking itself in its own puddle.
Football in the Indian sub-continent is one of the hottest topics in recent times.But at the moment, not for the right reasons.
The Indian footballing scene in recent years has turned into a crumbling mess which the All India Football Federation has been desperately trying to patch up. The innocuous moments in recent time included a harrowing defeat at the hands of Guam, an AFC Cup game where the host club was not able to sell tickets, a team relegated from the I-League despite not finishing at the bottom and now the latest blow as two Goan clubs viz. Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa, who have been at the forefront of the Indian football scene have now pulled out of India’s top-flight football league.
The “roadmap” has now become the roadblock. And steps which were supposed to take the sport in this country to the next level has now become a bitter pill to swallow, a mirage which now seems implausible.
“Winter is here.” The phrase rings true not only for the Westeros in HBO’s famous Game of Thrones, but also for Indian football.
When the AIFF and its media partners rolled out their vision for the future a month back, it took Indian football by storm. The proposals included making the Indian Super League, the premier event, an automatic promotion in stature with no scope for relegation. It also included an expansion plan but for only two teams. And that too based on their ability or willingness to pay a franchise fee to the AIFF.
The structure also saw the formation of two lower leagues and where most of the existing I-League clubs will end up. This was a relegation of mass proportions. And so we might see clubs relegated to the second tier of Indian football even after putting up a credible show.
That left the legacy clubs of India in a tangle. There were fiery words fired from all corner of the country. Right from the East coast (from the two Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan) to the deep South (Goan clubs like Salgaocar, Dempo and Sporting Clube de Goa) were up in arms not only mocking the plans but challenging its viability.
The Goan blow
Many theories were going around the footballing circles in this country about how the clubs and administration would take to the “merger” plans that in a true sense looked more of a hostile takeover. And what could they do?
The answer was emphatically, “A LOT”. Salgaocar and Sporting Club de Goa did what many thought would not be possible, something neither the AIFF nor any other thought they would dare to. Although there were threats pertaining to clubs shutting down or pulling out of the league, not many thought they would carry them out. But, they did exactly that.
If the roadmap felt like a slap across the face for the I-League clubs, the Goans’ response was a kick in the guts for the Football Federation. It now leaves them with only seven teams in the I-League with Dempo also threatening to quit.
A breakdown of the highest order
This was perhaps a nightmare that nobody envisaged. But, it’s here. And here to stay. AIFF seems genuinely lost and even to a point totally lackadaisical towards their approach to the perils of the I-League and its clubs.
Even in the letter expressing surprise at the exit of the Goan giants, it merely states the obvious without any hint as to what they might do to resolve the situation. Another close look at the letter and you may not even be surprised anymore. The opening words “AIFF and its media partners” says it all. Subtly, but below the belt.
“We have already given them suggestions. We wanted participation based on merit and not on ability to pay franchise fees,” quips Adlear D’Cruz, the current General Secretary of Salgaocar Football Club.
“We have had five meeting amongst ourselves since the proposal came forward. We have mailed them and there has been no reply. And sadly we have to come to this decision. Before pointing to our faults, they should look in the mirror. They have failed to even come forward and have a meeting with us. Is this how a legacy club should be treated?” asked a furious D’Cruz.
And not many can really blame him. Whilst, AIFF can be applauded for taking initiatives to bring forth the potential of the sport, their behaviour towards clubs that has sustained the game for decades has been appalling.
“We at Salgaocar have always been committed to Indian football and have been doing it without any financial motive for years. Now, we will focus on nurturing the young talent in Goa,” concluded Salgaocar’s main man.
Whist, their threats fell on deaf ears, that wasn’t the same reaction when FC Goa, threatened to pull out from the ISL owing to the penalties inflicted on them. A clear indication of where the priorities lie?