No country for I-League: Has the Indian football team missed out on giving promising young players a chance?
The Indian national team list of probables for the AFC Asian Cup Qualifier against the Kyrgyz Republic has left a few aghast, as a number of top players have not been picked.
The immediate shock that anyone gets after taking a look at the squad is the stark absence of iconic captain Sunil Chhetri. However, the Bengaluru FC man picked up two yellow cards in the two matches against Myanmar, which rendered him suspended for the upcoming fixture.
Keeping Chhetri aside, the biggest player to have missed out on the squad is Subrata Paul, who had reached the 20-clean sheet mark, earlier this season, which is the highest number of clean sheets any keeper has kept this season.
Instead, the likes of Vishal Kaith (FC Pune City) and TP Rehenesh (NorthEast United FC) have been picked.
Speaking to Sportskeeda, Gokulam Kerala head coach Bino George criticised the decision to call up Rehenesh. "TP Rehenesh conceded so many goals this season has been picked ahead of someone like Subrata Paul," he said.
"Even CK Vineeth, who has scored four goals in the ISL this season, is not in the camp," continued George. "If you bring in newcomers, they are likely to try even harder to get into the national team, something that will only help everyone."
Western Indian Football Association (WIFA) chief Henry Menezes, however, believes that this could be an indication of the coaching staff looking ahead the future, as Subrata is past his 30s.
"Someone like Subrata Paul has been a great player. Although I do not believe in an age for goalkeepers, we do need to look out for the future," said Menezes, who himself is a former national team goalkeeper.
"I think Gurpreet is doing a great job in goal anyway. There's also Dheeraj Singh, who I think is very close to that level. but we have some time with regards to that," he said.
Are I-League players not good enough?
The burning question with the squad that has been picked for the Kyrgyz Republic game is that only four of the players are from the I-League, while the other 28 are all from the ISL.
The likes of Salam Ranjan Singh, Md. Rafique, Cavin Lobo (East Bengal), Alen Deory (Shillong Lajong), are the only I-League representatives in the squad.
"From what I see, most of the players picked in the squad are from the ISL," said George. "Very few of them are from the I-League. They should at least get called up for the camp.
"Only then will they get the experience. Take someone like Soosairaj. All the coaches have been praising him. He played tremendously this season," he said.
However, George did go on to state that Constantine has earned the right to pick the team that he wants, as he has brought the national side the desired results. "Having said that, I don't think we are in a position to criticise Constantine at this moment. He has got the results over the last few years, and he's earned the right to pick his team."
Menezess, on the `other hand, believes that it is because of the fact that the other ISL players get a lot of exposure while playing with the foreign players.
"Quality-wise, there's not much difference between the two leagues, but we know that the ISL players get a lot of technical help. Also, they get a lot of exposure, while playing with the foreigners," said Menezes.
"See, at the end of the day, it's all about the coach, and what kind of players he wants in his team. If one particular player does not fit the profile, then there's no point in picking him and keeping him on the bench," he said.
With the Indian football season coming to a close, we have had a good opportunity to gauge them over a long period of time. However, despite the fact that many have not been picked for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup Qualifier, they would still have the chance to prove to their mettle in the Super Cup.