Our football focus is now fully on the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, but for Indian football the last few weeks have been a roller coaster ride. There has been good news in the signing and trials of our players in North America and Australia, but then there has been the terrible news closer to home with the closing down of Mahindra United, the Vision Asia programme shutting down the Delhi and Tamil Nadu chapters plus the threat from Bob Houghton to resign as India coach and the players salary issue.
So I ask myself, "where is Indian football heading?" And I think I am not the only person to ponder about this question.
My years of experience tells me Indian football could head anyway and anywhere, positive or negative. And that does worry me a lot, it seems history keeps repeating itself when it comes to Indian football. We often show a lot of promise, but then come crashing down to earth again. We take one or even two steps forward, but then take a step back again; while others move ahead of us.
So where is Indian football really heading? I'll try to answer this question from my perspective. Giving you a run down of the positives and negatives.
If you look onto the pitch the signs are really good. Sunil Chhetri signed for Major League Soccer side Kansas City Wizards in March, while currently Subrata Pal is on trial with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC in North America and Gouramangi Singh is on trial in Australia with A-League expansion franchise Melbourne Heart.
So finally over a decade after Baichung Bhutia tried their luck in the old English second division with Bury FC Indian players are getting a chance to show their talent abroad. It isn't in Europe yet, the continent that everyone would like to play on; but North America and Australia have strong professional leagues which could be a great stepping stone for our boys.
At least now our players are getting chances for trials abroad. A few years ago I had tried my luck for some boys here in Germany, but no one was even willing to invite Indian players for trials. A really difficult task...
Off the field lie the problems. The worst piece of news was the closing down of Mahindra United. The former National Football League champions were one of the strongest clubs in the I-League and their closure has send a wrong signal to corporates who were considering to launch their own clubs. As part of the I-League expansion new corporate clubs were set to be launched, but no corporate finally came forward to launch clubs in Delhi and Bangalore. The I-League therefore has postponed its expansion by a year and if these interested parties will come back has to be seen.
On the other side it was tragic that Shillong Lajong FC went down from the I-League. As I have written earlier they brought a breath of fresh air into the I-League, new ideas, a lot of passion, but if you are last in the league you just have to go down. Rumours say the federation is considering to expand the league to 16 teams to keep Sporting Clube de Goa and Shillong Lajong FC in the league, but I don't think this would be the right signal to the other clubs. Lajong needs to regroup in Division 2 and then come back stronger. It will help them and other clubs too, if there is no back door entry.
Further the weakness in the Indian football administration was exposed by the Vision Asia programme leaving the states of Delhi and Tamil Nadu. Delhi had been a launch project besides Manipur for Vision India, but the capital never really got started while Manipur is one of the best Vision projects across the continent. The Delhi Soccer Association blamed it on its constitution which over the years it could not amend as per AFC guidelines, but the AFC standpoint is rather different saying Delhi wasn't proactive enough and didn't implement its plans. Tamil Nadu meanwhile never got started.
The finale of the Bob Houghton saga is still to come, but as per latest infos Bob is still the India coach and he will return to India next week after watching some World Cup matches with a special focus on South Korea and Australia. So here is some further good news after all.
Also the federation has been able to sort out the salary issue with the national team players for the upcoming eight months ahead of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Keeping such an issue pending would have caused unrest amongst the players and hampered our preparations severely.
Now I hope a number of friendly internationals will be finalised as part of a calendar up to January 2011. We need to play tough opposition ahead of the Asian Cup, otherwise teams like South Korea, Australia and Bahrain will just take us apart.