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Indian Football Column: ISL puts focus on lesser known stars, Mohammedan Sporting’s issues & more

A brand new feature on this website is the introduction of weekly & fortnightly columns focusing on various leagues, countries and regions across the World. Sami Faizullah analyses and gives his opinion here on the talking points in Indian Football.

Mohammedan Sporting

Indian Super League puts focus on lesser known Indian stars

The likes of Baichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, Renedy Singh & Steven Dias have had their fair share of football stardom in the country, but all of these are either retired or past 30 and entering the penultimate stage of their football careers. The next generation of footballers from India hopefully have better circumstances to grow into professionals, but there still remain a couple of players in the current generation that have missed the stardom (and even a senior national team call-up) who have actually impressed in the on-going Indian Super League.

Two who have fully grasped the ISL opportunity are Mumbai City FC’s Subhash Singh & North East United’s Durga Boro neither of whom have played for the senior national team despite being 24 and 27 respectively. Subhash Singh is one of six Indian goal-scorers in the ISL after contributing to Mumbai’s 5-0 demolition of FC Pune City in the ‘Maha Derby’.

While North East United’s supporters have arguably been the most passionate and vocal throughout the ISL (much like Lajong in the I-League), many have been surprised by the good turn-out & excitement in the stands for Mumbai’s home games. The main beneficiaries have been the likes of Singh & Boro, who have quickly become fan favourites after their recent exploits. In fact, the North East supporters in New Delhi for the game between Delhi Dynamos & North East United even unveiled a large banner showing their support for Durga Boro.

This is crucial as creating an air of ‘stardom’ for footballers in the country, can actually go a long way in reflecting how the sport is perceived among the masses, ultimately affecting all areas of the game. We’ve seen the likes of Alessandro Del Piero & Robert Pires in their glory days, and it is exciting to see them grace Indian fields, but the development of Indian footballers is paramount here. As Subrata Pal put it, “Today players like Durga Boro and Singam Subhash Singh are also getting recognised. Earlier people only knew Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri.”

Indian Football loses one of it’s oldest clubs, then it doesn’t

In all the hype of the Indian Super League, a bit of depressing news hit Indian Football as one of the oldest football clubs from the country, Mohammedan Sporting (founded in 1891) announced that it was to disband as a result of financial issues that prevented the club from moving forward. Mohammedan were a largely well-known club even in Britain in the 1930s and 40s, as one of their most promising individuals, Mohammed Salim, made the move to Scottish giants Celtic, with plenty of stories being told of how he won over the supporters. Understandably again, the British media caught the news of Mohammedan’s disbandment with the likes of BBC running a special feature on it.

But with all the attention that this famous club was given after announcing its end, it reportedly received more sponsorship, making it financial viable than a few days earlier, with club president Sultan Ahmed then announcing that the club would participate in the Durand Cup and the second division of the I-League.

While it’s welcoming news all-round that Mohammedan Sporting does indeed continue to exist, it remains a troubling reminder at the lack of finance & investment in Indian football. While the new Indian Super League franchises have received a significant amount of financial support, the existing clubs still struggle with the immediate & long-term future of traditional powerhouses, East Bengal & Mohun Bagan, still a concern.

FC Pune City yet to be reprimanded

The All-India Football Federation have done well in taking a stand against discipline issues with Atletico de Kolkata boss, Antonio Habas, suspended for 4 games and fined for allegedly punching FC Goa’s Robert Pires a few days back, with the ex-Arsenal star also suspended for 2 games. The first goal-scorer of the Indian Super League, Fikru Teferra, has received a 2 game suspension himself for a different incident in the same game, involving a head-butt on Gregory Amolin. Although there’s no place for such incidents in the sport, it finally seemed like a ‘proper’ football competition, with players’ passion & nerves coming into play (rather than it just being an exhibition).

However, FC Pune City are yet to be punished (possibly beyond the jurisdiction of the AIFF and meant to be handled by the ISL separately) after their 7th player issue. The Indian Super League has specified that teams can only field 6 foreign nationals at any point of time during the 90 minutes. In that embarrassing loss to Mumbai in the derby, there was a situation where the team had 7 players playing after taking an Indian starter off and replacing him with a foreign substitute (Mehrajuddin Wadoo going off for Omar Rodriguez). The issue sparked some criticism on social media, with various websites reporting it as well. However, 10 days on from the incident and FC Pune City have not faced any action.

It’s important that authorities take such incidents more seriously as the existence of this rule otherwise becomes irrelevant. While no loophole around this rule exists that allows for 7 foreign, authorities would have to take more stringent action against incidents that deliberately or by error go against the specifications. The fact that 6 foreigners are allowed in the XI, and upto 14 in the squad is already against the criteria set by the Asian Football Confederation for the development of Asian footballers, anything to further worsen that stance can have a detrimental impact.

Third oldest football tournament kicks off, without any coverage

India’s Durand Cup is considered to be the 3rd oldest football tournament in the World behind only the more famous English FA Cup and Scottish Cup. The 2014 edition of the tournament kicked off with the ‘re-born’ Mohammedan Sporting taking on I-League champions Bengaluru FC in Margao, as the team from South India ran out 2-1 winners. The disappointing factor about this was that no one was in fact able to follow the game besides updates on Bengaluru FC’s social media accounts.

While many have questioned the existence of the Durand Cup, in addition to all the other sub-tournaments for top level Indian football, the fact that such a prestigious competition isn’t being broadcasted anyway is another reminder of the lack of interest in Indian football. While the Indian Super League has managed to rope in a lot of interest along-with a top TV deal which broadcasts all games live across the nation at prime timing, one may only get to see the Durand Cup at the semi-final stage (if at all) on state owned DD Sports. Added to the lack of coverage, the opening game took place at 9:00 AM on a weekday, unlikely to even attract any crowd at the stadium. So without supporters at the stadium, no coverage on television, we are left at the mercy of social media updates and delayed match reports to even be aware of the game taking place. Not the best way to follow the beautiful game is it?

Talent Radar Player of the Week

The major disappointment in the ISL has been the lack of Indian youngsters being given opportunities; understandable since they may not be at the required level. But it again stems from the fact that only 5 Indians are allowed start per game. Having said that, there have been a few who have been given opportunities, and impressed. This week, Shouvik Ghosh of Delhi Dynamos has stood out with the capital franchise as the side improve on their performances, grabbing a first win as they remain unbeaten after four games.

The Delhi side have also conceded just two goals and along with leaders Atletico de Kolkata, are the only unbeaten side in the competition. 21-year-old Ghosh has been solid in his displays at left-back, helped by an organized defence that have thus far held their own well and looked most vulnerable in the 0-0 draw with North East United. Ghosh also has an assist to his name, setting up Wim Raymakers for his sensational goal in the 1-1 draw with Kolkata.

Written by Sami Faizullah

Sami Faizullah

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