The Telegraph
Tuesday , July 19 , 2011
Since 1st March, 1999
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UAE will be different ball game

Let’s not go overboard with India’s win over Qatar in the international friendly on Sunday. I agree this is a big achievement, given Qatar are much higher in Fifa rankings but the World Cup qualifier against UAE will be a different ballgame altogether. UAE are a strong team and they will come all guns blazing, particularly in Dubai, on July 23.

There’s no denying the fact that India are doing well under Armando Colaco. But a loss in the qualifier will once again bring him under the scanner. After all he is at the helm on an ad-hoc basis. And knowing All India Football Federation’s fetish for foreign coaches, they may after all go for ‘big name’.

Talking about the AIFF and their step-motherly attitude towards local leagues, I can’t desist myself from taking a dig at the association for not allowing the I-League teams to use the same set of players in their respective local leagues. This decision will actually kill the game.

The AIFF had been trying hard to undermine the importance of the local leagues for the last six-seven years. There were regular efforts to reduce local leagues, especially in Calcutta and Goa, to secondary tournaments. I am told our national body is under pressure from Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to lift the standard of I-League and to make it a more sellable product.

While agreeing with their arguments, I am still at a loss to understand how that can be achieved by sending the local leagues to backseats.

The AIFF, and their friends in the AFC, should know that India, being a huge country, has its own problems. Here, stronger local leagues are more needed to strengthen the base of the game. Currently, I-League is played in only six states and in no way can be called a national championship in true sense.

I think local leagues, whether in Bengal, Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka or Kerala, have greater powers in taking football to the grassroots level. If the standard of local leagues is good, then we can expect more youngsters to get attracted to football. Instead of trying to market the I-League as a product, the national body should concentrate in improving the local leagues in all states.

Under the new rule, no player will be allowed to play more than 40 matches in a season. This rule has been framed by people with very little practical knowledge. Nowhere in the world is a first class footballer restricted to play only 40 matches in a season. A top player should play at least 55 domestic matches besides playing for the national team. No club can afford to pay a footballer huge sums for appearing in only 40 matches.

Complete lack of technical knowledge seems to be the biggest drawback of the decision-makers. Otherwise, how can they propose two different sets of rules for recruitment of foreigners in I-League and local leagues? Do they mean to say the clubs will have to carry an extra foreigner throughout the season only for playing in the I-League and the Federation Cup?

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