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AIFF to raid clubs for Asian glory

New Delhi: In what is an unprecedented move, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is set to embark on an ambitious plan to select 25 star players, who will be asked not to sign for any club in the next two seasons. The target is for them to play exclusively for the national team until the Doha Asia Cup in January 2011.

The list of 25 players, finalised by national coach Bob Houghton, includes some of the biggest names in Indian football like Bhaichung Bhutia, Subrata Paul, Sunil Chetri and Steven Dias.

The plan, which has been formally named ‘Goal 2011’, and is likely to cost the AIFF close to Rs 40 crore, has been approved by the executive committee. The final shape will be given by the development committee, which meets here Thursday.

According to sources, the grand plan, mooted by Houghton in consultation with the AIFF general secretary Alberto Colaco and the federation’s marketing department, is likely to come into effect from the start of the next season, in June.

All the selected footballers, most of whom command seven-figure seasonal payments from their respective clubs, will be offered matching fees by the AIFF.

“This is one of AIFF’s most ambitious plans ever and is likely to cause an uproar among the clubs, local associations and the sponsors,” sources said.

“At the same time, the financial commitment to make the plan successful is really huge. We are not yet sure where the money will come from.”

Houghton, under whom India have made the final rounds of the Asia Cup for the first time in 24 years, spoke at length during the executive committee meeting last month and told the members that the selected footballers should be given extensive and uninterrupted training for the next 18 months before they take on the best teams from the continent in the Asia Cup.

“Houghton was of the opinion that the national team should play at least 30 international matches to prepare themselves for the Asia Cup,” sources revealed. “That can be possible only if the selected players do not play for their respective clubs and remain available exclusively for national duty.”

Sources said that the money needed at every step of the plan could be the biggest worry. While it may cost the federation a minimum of Rs 30 lakh to organise one friendly match, the payment to be made to the players could run up to a few crores of rupees.

“The federation also needs to arrange big sponsors to keep the team together for the next one and half year,” sources said. “Several players on the list have three-year contracts with their respective clubs. Substantial amounts would have to be paid to seek their release.”

The top AIFF officials are hopeful that the money can be raised through sponsorships. The acting president Praful Patel has already promised to do his best for the successful implementation of the Goal 2011 plan.

Goal 2011 plan

Select 25 players and keep them exclusively for the national team till the Asia Cup in Doha in January 2011.

All the players should be paid matching salaries as per the fees they command.

The national team should stay together and play at least 30 international matches prior to the Asia Cup.

The budget for the national team for the next 18 months should be around Rs 40 crore.

Sponsors to be approached to raise money.

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