Recently, Services retained the Santosh Trophy with a 2-1 comeback win against Maharashtra in Nagpur. It was a good run out for the lads in the scorching heat, helping them build up their stamina and fitness levels. The Santosh Trophy is India’s most prestigious inter-state competition. Once upon a time, it was regularly accompanied by competitions such as the Durand Cup – which has been stuttering on and off for a while – and the IFA Shield (Asia’s oldest and the world’s 4th oldest football competition), a similar knockout tournament, but the AIFF has decided that from 2015 onwards the IFA Shiled will only be a competition for Under 19 teams. The Federation Cup, one of the country’s most prestigious football tournaments was about to be put on a hold in 2015 until the AFC gave the verdict that a club must play at least 18 games in a season – yes, that is the only reason why the Federation Cup wasn’t put on a hold!
The Indian Super Cup, contested between the winners of the I League and the Federation Cup has been put on a hold since 2011 as well.
The I-League, India’s premier football league, and the only Indian league recognized by FIFA (yes, the Indian Super League is only considered a two month footballing bonanza and is not recognized by FIFA) today consists only of 9 teams, each team playing 16 games in a year, while most premier leagues around the world consist of at least 18-20 teams, giving teams 36-38 games in a year.
So, what am I heading towards with this brief summary of slowly fading or faded footballing tournaments? Well, the fact that we need to bring them back, that we cannot let them die in ignominy!
Citing reasons of playing schedules clashing with the ISL or I-League reeks of bad management at best and stupidity at its worst. There are numerous reasons that the AIFF and Indian Footballing honchos need to get these tournaments back.
One of the major reasons to reinstate these tournaments and to bring them back into their full glory is so that the players can retain their match fitness all year round and be in peak conditions. This will also help the players of the National Team as they will not need to spend a lot of time on conditioning and on getting back in perfect shape for international tournaments.
Sounds similar to the former right? Well, it isn’t. There’s a world of difference between match fitness and sharpness, though some parts of them may overlap. Basically, the more you play, the sharper your footballing skills remain, which may come in the realm of fitness, but similarly, the more you play, the more you develop your footballing brain, your vision, and the execution of strategies on field is that much smoother and faster. It is a must for any player who has aspirations of playing at the highest level.
Less Players Go Club-less
With only 9 clubs in the I-League and only 8 in the ISL, and many players from one playing in the other, a number of Indian players are ending up without clubs and have had to revert to lower divisions. This wouldn’t be the case if there were more clubs or if existing clubs had to participate in more competitions, thus needing bigger player rosters.
It would help players join the sport at younger levels with clubs trying to scout and sign local talent. This would give the players more options for playing as well, thereby developing the game at youth levels.
All of this in turn would lead to an interest in the sport at a local level, bringing in more crowds for games, making the tournaments a success. It would also let youngsters see that there is scope for football in the country, with the many tournaments being sponsored and given new life.
All of this would fuel some much needed hope and spirit into the sport.