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AIFF and clubs fail to resolve impasse

New Delhi: The issue over clubs’ refusal to release players for the national team’s Caribbean tour remained in a limbo on Monday. And that despite the All India Football Federation (AIFF)’s best effort to break the deadlock.

On a day of high drama and volte-face, the two Calcutta clubs East Bengal and Mohun Bagan first agreed to release footballers only to backtrack a couple of hours later after Dempo Sports Club and Pune FC stuck to their original stand of recalling the players from the camp.

The national team has 10 members from Dempo, including the chief coach, Armando Colaco, who also happens to be the secretary of the club.

Frustrated by the development a federation official said the national body will now take stringent actions against the clubs. “The AIFF president (Praful Patel) is extremely upset by the attitude of the clubs,” said the official. “The federation has already taken legal opinion on the matter and feels the clubs have no reason to stop the players from representing the national team. They should now be prepared to face the consequences.”

Despite putting up a brave face, the AIFF officials seemed nervous and remained huddled in a star hotel till late in the night to find a way out and save the tour. Frantic calls were made to club officials in Goa and Calcutta but no breakthrough could be achieved yet.

The twist to the tale, which, initially looked going entirely the AIFF’s way, came when Dempo Sports Club ordered their players to return to Goa by the first available flight on Tuesday. Encouraged by their stand, Pune FC, too, suddenly sounded non-committal and told the federation that they would decide on the subject later.

According to sources, things looked rosy in the evening when general secretary Kushal Das produced a letter from East Bengal in the meeting stating the club were ready to release Mehtab Hussain for the tour in the national interest. When Mohun Bagan were contacted, they also expressed their willingness to release players. So much so, Mohun Bagan, who had earlier directed Sunil Chetri to return to Calcutta immediately, asked the striker to go back to the camp from the Delhi airport.

But both the teams did a volte-face two hours later when Bagan told Chetri to return to Calcutta and asked their two other footballers, Syed Rahim Nabi and Jewel Raja, not to join the camp. East Bengal then promptly said Mehtab could not be released for the tour.

Dempo, on the other hand, remained adamant. “Our management has told us to inform our footballers in Delhi that they should come back to Goa immediately. It remains our stand till now as we have no further instruction,” a Goan club official.

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