India’s football coach Stephen Constantine inducted two players from Services, who were not in the I-League, in the national camp for the Saff Cup last year. Even though midfielder Jain P.
India’s football coach Stephen Constantine inducted two players from Services, who were not in the I-League, in the national camp for the Saff Cup last year. Even though midfielder Jain P. and forward Arjun Tudu didn’t make it to the final squad, their presence in the camp sent out a message that the coach was willing to cast his net wide to find latent talent outside the I-League.
After sending out positive signals to states that don’t have an I-League team, the Anglo-Cypriot coach disappointed them by not sending a spotter to the ongoing 70th Santosh Trophy in Nagpur. There is no gainsaying the fact that the national football championship is no longer the meeting point for India’s best talent but ignoring the event as if it doesn’t matter at all is wrong. In a country as vast as India, a national level tournament is guaranteed to throw up a few promising youngsters.
Constantine, or any coach for that matter, can’t pretend that the national team are so full of quality that he doesn’t have to look elsewhere for reinforcements. Some players who break into the Indian team on the back of their I-League performances will struggle to find a starting place in Services, who are in the final in Nagpur.
Services coach S.P. Shaji said Army Red finished second in the Kolkata league behind East Bengal last season. According to him, Army Red who had beaten the likes of defending I-League champions Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting for their second place were only a wing of his Services team. That an Army unit comprising mainly players from outside the I-League, can defeat Bagan is an indication that the country’s top tournament is not a touchstone for standard.
The I-League had mainly been a tournament for two cities, Margao and Kolkata, in its early years. Things have somewhat improved over the seasons, with the current campaign having teams from Aizwal, Bengaluru, Pune and Shillong. But the All India Football Federation has to go a long way to ensure that in its flagship event encompasses the whole country. For instance, the entire south India has only one club, Bengaluru FC, in the I-League.
The federation must take steps to reinvigorate the Santosh Trophy. The way the tournament is being conducted in Nagpur is shoddy at best and the AIFF must pull up the Western India Football Association (the parent body of Nagpur district) for the lapses. If the federation is of the opinion that the Santosh Trophy has lost its relevance, why has it not scrapped the tournament There is no point in organising the Santosh Trophy for the sake of organising it.