With the Indian men’s football team slated to play its first match of the Asian Games on September 19, and the 10th season of the Indian Super League (ISL) scheduled to begin on September 21, there was uncertainty regarding players’ availability for both competitions at the media day organised by the ISL in Bengaluru on Tuesday.
All players in the King’s Cup squad were scheduled to return from Thailand to their ISL clubs on Tuesday. All India Football Federation (AIFF) had wanted players in that squad also chosen for Asian Games to stay back in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where they would be joined by players from the squad that was playing in the Asian under-23 qualifiers in Dalian, China (India lost 0-3 to UAE on Tuesday to end with two defeats in two games). The players for the Games who were not in either squad were supposed to fly to Thailand on Monday (September 11). That would have meant at least two full sessions of training before checking into the Games Village on September 16.
But as ISL clubs refused to release players since Asian Games is not in the FIFA window, players in China will also return to India. On Tuesday, all an AIFF official could say was that a squad of 22 would travel for Asian Games on September 16.
It is possible that the first training session for the Games squad would be in Hangzhou, two days before India open against hosts China. India play Bangladesh on September 21 and Myanmar three days later. The top two teams from each of the six groups and four best-third placed teams will qualify for the round of 16.
Mumbai City FC coach Des Buckingham, whose team will also play its first match of in the AFC Champions League group stage on September 18, termed it “a unique situation” and said he was hopeful of a solution “that’s best for everybody.”
“If I look back at my two years as coach so far… Outside of the FIFA windows, we’ve released our players into national camps for nearly 90 days. We don’t have to do that, and I know we’re not the only club that has done it, but we know how important it is for players to get to represent their country. We also know how important that is for the Indian team in order to be successful.”
An official from an ISL club that has an Asian commitment said: “We aren’t at all keen to send our players for the Asian Games. There has been no communication with us and that has put us in a difficult situation.”
While Bengaluru FC refused to comment on the matter, FC Goa coach Manolo Marquez remained focused on finding solutions no matter which players he has at his disposal.
“I’m not going to speak about this because I don’t think it is the right occasion to do so,” said Marquez. “But to be a good team, you have to perform even when the main players are missing. There are bans and injuries and stuff all the time but you have to find a way to remain competitive.”