The Indian men’s football team’s will kick-off its Asian Games group-stage campaign against China on September 19, followed by matches against Bangladesh and Myanmar on September 21 and 24, respectively.
With the saga between the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) and the ISL clubs undergoing several twist and turns, the Blue Tigers finally have a 22-member squad for their campaign in Hangzhou.
Following are the players who have been released by their respective ISL clubs and how their absence can impact the respective teams.
After a long standoff between the Federation and the clubs, the recent impasse has suggested that the clubs, predominantly from the ISL, are not willing to compromise on gaining momentum from the start of the 2023-24 season by releasing their important players.
The impact on ISL clubs
Sunil Chhetri and Rohit Danu will be representing Bengaluru FC. While Danu’s inclusion is understandable as the 21-year-old is not a starter, Chhetri’s inclusion might come as a surprise when most clubs have been close-fisted with releasing players.
However, if one had been following Simon Grayson’s team last season, it is a well-known fact that Chhetri had fallen down the pecking order. Operating mostly from the bench in the second half of last season, Siva Sakthi Narayanan is the main face of the Blues attack now, a player who was in the original 22-member squad but not in the revised one.
Kerala Blasters has agreed to release Rahul KP and Bryce Miranda, but it shouldn’t make too much of a dent in Ivan Vukomanovic’s plan for the start of the season. Although it is surprising that the club has offered the services of Rahul for the national team since he was a key figure in the Blasters last season. For winger Bryce Miranda, who spent last season mostly on the bench, Vukomanovic will have cover in winger Muhammed Aimen.
Chennaiyin FC will be represented by attackers Rahim Ali and Vincy Barretto. Rahim can be the main choice in the No. 9 role at the Asian Games, while Vincy can be a livewire on the flanks. Owen Coyle will need to rack his brain on how to shape his team in their absence because these two are crucial forward-line players for the Marina Machans.
While Coyle has talented overseas forwards like Jordan Murray and Connor Shields at his disposal, the absence of Rahim and Vincy can prove to be tricky for Chennaiyin. CFC has the option of Farukh Choudhary, Romario Jesuraj and Ninthoingba Meetei on the flanks.
Hyderabad FC has released goalkeeper Gurmeet Singh, centre-back Chinglesana Singh and midfielder Abdul Rabeeh Anjukandan. Gurmeet Singh became the first-choice for Hyderabad last season, but head coach Conor Nestor has a dependable back-up in Laxmikant Kattimani, who can fill in. Chinglesana makes a return to the India squad and should be a crucial player for Stimac in Hangzhou.
In his absence, Hyderabad has versatile defender Nim Dorjee who can fill in for Chinglesana. As far as Rabeeh is concerned, Hyderabad has excellent depth in midfield with the likes of Sahil Tavora, Hitesh Sharma and Mohammad Yasir.
FC Goa is letting go of two first-team players - goalkeeper keeper Dheeraj Singh and centre-back Sandesh Jhingan. As far as the keeper is concerned, the Gaurs would have been to bank on either Arshdeep Singh or Hrithik Tiwary. Neither keeper had much game time last season, so it is difficult to predict how they’ll fare.
Jhingan is undoubtedly an important cog in the Gaurs defence, so Manolo Marquez might have a headache in finding an alternative. Jay Gupta might serve as an alternative in Jhingan’s absence.
Goa head coach Manolo Marquez should not miss Ayush’s absence too much, given he has a rich disposal of talented midfielders in Brandon Fernandes, Brison Fernandes, Rowllin Borge and Raynier Fernandes.
Punjab FC, which will play its first season in the ISL after winning the I-League last season, has let go of midfielder Amarjit Singh Kiyam, along with midfielder Samuel Kynshi. Punjab has players like Prasanth Karuthadathkuni in the wide forward role line and the ISL-experienced Leon Augustine on the wings, who can fill in.
Mohun Bagan Super Giant has the ISL’s most expensive and heavily stacked squad. The Mariners have their bases covered in all positions. The Kolkata giant is letting go of centre-back Sumit Rathi and defensive midfielder Deepak Tangri.
Rathi will not be a first-choice player, with Anwar Ali above him in the hierarchy. The Mariners, on paper, have the best midfield of the ISL, having roped in both Anirudh Thapa and Sahal Abdul Samad in the same transfer window. So, it is unlikely that Tangri’s absence will affect the dynamic of Juan Ferrando’s team.
Aniket Jadhav and Narender Gahlot will feature from Odisha FC. Jadhav, who plays in the forward line, should not be missed as the Juggernauts have players like Roy Krishna and Diego Mauricio, with talented Indian winger Jerry Mawihmingthanga also at their disposal. Gahlot will be a big miss in the Odisha defence, who featured in 18 games at right full-back last season but coach Sergio Lobera has a strong Indian defensive core comprising of Amey Ranawade, Thoiba Singh, Shubham Sarangi and Laldinliana Renthlei.
Mumbai City FC is releasing Gurkirat Singh, which should not dampen Des Buckingham’s plan, considering the youngster occupying a peripheral role in the team. Indian forwards Lallianzuala Chhangte, Bipin Singh and Vikram Pratap Singh are also higher in the pecking order.
Jamshedpur FC will be releasing young keeper Vishal Yadav, who will most likely feature as Dheeraj or Gurmeet’s deputy at the Asian Games.
East Bengal will let go of centre-back Lalchungnunga. Lalchungnunga is a regular face in the Red and Gold Brigade defensive setup, which means in his absence, head coach Carles Cuadrat will have to tweak things. Gursimrat Gill is the most likely option who will replace Lalchungnunga during his absence.
Azfar Noorani, who signed for Gokulam Kerala on Thursday, is also among the ranks of the Indian setup at the 19th Asian Games, but the I-League schedule is not announced yet.
AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey said, “It has been a hectic time for Indian football season this time. We have a tight schedule within a short period of time that was not easy to manage.
“There have been too many things happening, both at the domestic and the international level, involving India’s National Teams, as well as the ISL clubs. While the Senior National Men’s Team successfully completed playing a series of matches, they are also awaiting to play the Asian Games, followed by Merdeka Cup, World Cup Qualifiers, and the AFC Asian Cup,” he said.
Indian men’s squad for the Asian Games
Indian men’s football team schedule for Asian Games
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