The 64th edition of the Santosh Trophy is currently being held in Kolkata. And if I see the coverage in the media, then I ask myself the question is anyone seriously following the tournament? Surely there will be the exceptions of football crazy people who don't want to miss anything Indian football, but else...
The Santosh Trophy before the days of the National Football League/I-League was the national level competition where states used to compete and it was the only way to judge the status of Indian football. There was a flaw in the system that players could only represent the state in which they played in, so Bengal through the Kolkata Maidan giants had an undue advantage, but the competition was about beating the big boys of Indian football.
Now this competitiveness has somewhat died out as the importance of the Santosh Trophy has diminished as have a lot of other tournaments, leagues and competitions with the rise of the I-League and a more central approach in Indian football. Don't get me wrong, the I-League's growth is the only real solution of having top level professional football in India; but one also needs the feeder tournaments where young talent or talent not seen before can show themselves. And the Santosh Trophy should be used as such, and only as such.
I think that a lot of I-League players at this time of the year would have liked to be either still on holiday or at pre-season training with their clubs with a long professional season of I-League, Federation Cup, local leagues and other tournaments ahead of them. The question to be asked is if players not really interested to play the tournament will give it everything. I doubt that as they will also avoid to risk injuries as players from smaller states will give it all.
So what to do? The AIFF needs to promote the Santosh Trophy most likely in a new avtar. Currently the tournament seems to be held for the sake of playing it. Also it cannot and should not compete with the I-League. But that is unfair to a historical tournament like the Santosh Trophy, unfair to the player taking part in it and also unfair to the fans who are still following the tournament.
Looking at a possible solution is by making it a tournament for non-I-League Division 1 players, but allowing players under the age of 23 from I-League clubs to take part. You give the youngsters and fringe players the chance to show themselves in the Santosh Trophy and maybe get picked-up by a big club or given a chance at their respective club due to a strong performance in the Santosh Trophy. Also the competitiveness of the tournament would most likely go up as the big stars and professionals wouldn't take part. Surely states like Bengal and Goa would be hit, but if they really have the talent pool that they claim to have then this wouldn't be an issue.
Maybe someone is listening...