New Delhi: Former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia on Thursday differed with national coach Wim Koevermans’ suggestions that the proposed franchise based tournament would be a threat to the national team and said the new league would help to popularise the sport in India.
“There is no point blaming the IMG-R league…that’s a wrong way of looking at things,” said Bhutia, without naming the Dutch coach. “Had someone said it in January, I would have still accepted it. Why single out only a bunch of players? There were several other players, who did not play too many competitive matches before the SAFF tournament,” added Bhutia.
On Wednesday, after India went down to Afghanistan in the SAFF championship final, Koevermans was quoted saying he was worried about the future of the national team.
“I am really worried with the situation we have in India right now,” Koevermans said. “It’s a threat for the national team. Two boys from disbanded Arrows, five from IMG-R and one from Mumbai Tigers would be without clubs.
“Now what are these boys supposed to do? Just practice? And how do I react to this situation as a national coach?” the Dutch coach asked immediately after the final in Kathmandu.
Bhutia, who is also the chairman of All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) technical committee, said the new league contracted players did not look out of depth in the final.
“I watched the match on television. (Syed Rahim) Nabi and Gouramangi Singh were outstanding. Nirmal Chetri and Subroto Paul also played well. All of them did a good job.
“IMG-R players were not the only ones who did not play competitive football before the SAFF championship. What about Jeje (Lalpekhlua) and Sunil Chetri?,” Bhutia asked.
The ace striker, who had been backing the proposed new league from the very beginning, said the league would help Indian football to grow. “More people will come to watch the matches, better players will be seen in action and sponsors would be encouraged to back the game,” he said.
Bhutia rued the lack of spectators in the I-League and said, sponsors were backing out of most of the I-League teams. “Even the leading teams are struggling,” he said.
Bhutia, however, said India’s final against Afghanistan could have been anybody’s match. “It was all about converting chances. In the previous final in Delhi, we converted our chances and won the match. It was the other way round in Kathmandu.”
Longer camps were must for the improvement of the national team, said Bhutia, who led India for 12 years on the trot. “Why did Bob (Houghton) succeed? It was because he was allowed to hold longer camps. Koevermans should also do the same. The AIFF would have to make adjustments in its calendar to do so. Otherwise, we would never be able to produce the desired results in international football.”
Asked whether Sunil should have been included in the starting eleven against Afghanistan, Bhutia said: “I can’t comment on that.”