India skipper Sunil Chhetri said that the national footballers were “sceptical” about the proposed IPL-style league because of the ongoing rift between the I-League clubs and AIFF’s marketing and commercial partners, IMG-Reliance. “A lot of players have spoken to me, they are very sceptical about the development. They feel scared. I can’t take names but I try to calm them down. This is not a good position for the players to be. That is the reason I want the topsy-turvy situation to be resolved as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter which way it turns. It should be solved,” Chettri said on the sidelines of the launch of Nike’s home and away kit for the Indian team.
If the new IMG-Reliance league becomes a hit with the fans, clubs feel it will affect the already floundering I-League. The development has left the Indian club owners agitated and recently the I-League Professional Football Clubs Association (IPFCA) has decided to not release players contracted to them for the IPL-style league.
Chettri, who joined Bengaluru-based football club — JSW Sports last month, said he too was not sure about the IMG-R league and didn’t want to wait any longer. “There was no risk in joining but nobody was sure what is going to happen. There was no definite plan and I didn’t want to wait that long. I met a lot of IMG-Rellaince officials but I still was not sure. I have nothing against anybody and I am sure there will be a league and many players have signed already. I just want everybody to calm down and a good thing to happen,” he said.
“I don’t want one body to go right and one goes left, that is not good for Indian sports. You have to go in the same direction. Clubs also want the betterment of football, AIFF and IMG-Reliance are also there to do good for the sports. They should work together,” Chettri added. The IPL-style league is an ambitious project but Chhetri said it was not only about money for the players, rather it was working under a good coach and playing for a good team. “It is not about money. Everybody has cars, everybody has money. There are many players who are running their family. It is never about money, it is about working with a good coach and playing for a good team,” he said.
Nike decided to continue its association with Indian football and Chettri and his boys will be playing a friendly against Tajikistan in their new apparel, before heading to Kathmandu for SAFF Cup. Talking about the upcoming matches, Chhetri said: “We will be attending the camp in Delhi on August 8th and then leave for Tajikistan on 9th. After playing in the friendly on Aug 14th, we will directly go to Bangalore for the camp. We want to have a good training for 30 days and I don’t see any reason why we can’t win in SAFF Cup.
“The last AFC challenge qualifiers didn’t go well for us but we are optimistic. We will do our best. There will be a bit pressure because we are expected to win in SAFF Cup. We don’t want to look any particular team but it is important to win the opening match. A win in the first game will set the mood,” Chhetri said. Last year, Chhetri had signed a two-year contract with Sporting Lisbon’s B side but he moved to Churchill Brothers on loan towards the fag end of the I-League, before joining JSW Sport, a club that will be making its I-League debut this season. Asked about the reason behind the moves, Chhetri said: “I was there for six months but got just five games for Lisbon, which was not good for my confidence. I was training regularly but not playing matches. I am not 19 anymore. So when I shifted base to Churchill brothers, I was happy as I got 13 matches. It was difficult to leave a champion team.
“I was happy with the vision of the Bangalore club. They set everything in place and then got the players. There are 21 players so far. It won’t be easy. We have no long-term target. I’m sure we can achieve a lot of things if we stick together,” Chhetri said.
‘IMG-Reliance Tournament Is Biggest Threat To Indian Football’
The ambitious IMG-Reliance football league has failed to impress India’s national coach Wim Koevermans. The Dutchman, usually selective with his words, has called it the ‘biggest threat’ to Indian football — given that it’s causing a huge standoff between the AIFF and the I-League and is affecting the national team.
“I can say and plan whatever I want, but the biggest threat now is the IMG-Reliance tournament. A lot of national players have signed contracts for the tournament and because of that the clubs won’t sign them. So, what I’m facing at the moment is that the contracted players cannot train with the clubs and prepare themselves. And I have a game with the national team in August,” a visibly agitated Koevermans was quoted as saying in a DNA Report.
India are scheduled to play an international friendly against Tajikistan on August 14. Koevermans complained that he cannot pick around six-seven players because they can’t play for an I-League club having signed with the IMG-Reliance tournament teams. He also says it’s a problem that was ‘created by ourselves.’ India, ranked 146th in the latest FIFA Rankings, were scheduled to play Bangladesh and Paksitan in London in June, but it was cancelled due to financial issues. Koevermans believes that the team should be playing more to get better.
“I’m not happy with that (cancellation). But that’s real life. We can only move up the rankings if we play matches. And hopefully India can give me that and not have problems like Yemen (which was also cancelled in November 2012) and the trip to London, because then I can’t do anything,” he added.
AIFF Approves New IMG-R League; Says No ‘Real Problems’ With Clubs
The All India football Federation (AIFF) ha given its go ahead to the IPL-style league with its executive committee agreeing to the holding of the tournament by its commerical partners IMG-Relliance early next year. “Through this tournament we are looking for the popularisation of Indian football and taking the game to the masses. I league and this tournament will go hand-in-hand,” AIFF president Praful Patel told reporters.
Patel said the league will have players from across the world with plenty of experience in international tournaments. “They have made the presentation that they will sign marqueee who have played in the World Cup and major international tournament. It will be a combination of Indian and International players,” he said. Since the idea of the tournament came to the fore, the clubs have been adamant that they will not release players for this league but Patel said there was no real issue among the stake holders.
“There is no real issue among the AIFF, IMG-R and the I-league clubs. I-league is our number one priority and it will remain so in future also. “, Patel said.