Chhetri on the skewed Indian football calendar

There’s the ISL, the I-League and the national team and there are a fair number of players who are part of all three set ups, making it really difficult on them as well as the teams they represent. A unified league, the schedule of which is drawn in tandem with the national team will go a long way in improving Indian football.

India fell flat in its final World Cup qualifier against Turkmenistan in Kochi.   -  PTI

As expected, India failed the Iranian test in Tehran.   -  PTI

Uruguay's Luis Suarez (right) and Edinson Cavani forged an effortless partnership in their match against Brazil.   -  AP

Without wanting to sweep dust under the rug, I’d like to say at the onset of this piece, that the recent few weeks have been nothing but disappointing. We ended our World Cup qualifying campaign with a loss against Turkmenistan, in a game where we took the lead. We should have done better to protect it. Four days before that, the team made the trip to Iran, where we were practical enough to know what we were up against the No. 1 ranked team in Asia. No one expected a miracle and there wasn’t to be one. Two penalties finished off the tie.

But the defeat in Kochi to the Turkmens hurt more. It would have been nice to end things on a high. However, football teaches you to not dwell on disappointments for long. However, it’s vital to use these blips, stumbles and crashes, as a case study in our bid to better ourselves.

 

I’m not sure if you need to be an ardent Indian football fan to know the packed calendar that’s constantly being drawn up and moaned about in equal measure. It wasn’t and will never be the single reason why we’ve lacked on so many fronts on the pitch. But I can tell you that it does make a difference. I wouldn’t delve much into this, but I know I’m speaking on behalf of every player when I say a perfectly planned and scheduled calendar will go a long way in making a difference to the bigger picture.

People also suggest that playing under different coaches for club and then country must play its part in players struggling to adjust and in turn being unable to churn out results. But this is something I wouldn’t really agree with. As a professional player you need to be adaptable. There are positions on the pitch that are your comfort zones and ones that you’ve made your own. But modern day football demands versatility more than ever and it’s really silly to even think that the transition from club to country and back hampers a pattern and affects a performance in turn.

If that was the logic then the talk of the Germans being a well-oiled machine at the World Cup would have been a fallacy and Brazil’s seamless passing game, impossible. I was watching the Brazil-Uruguay qualifier the other day and watched Neymar and Luis Suarez go head to head.

It was only a fortnight ago that they were tearing apart defences together for Barcelona. But on that night, they were up against each other. So what did Suarez do? Forge an effortless partnership with Edinson Cavani, who plays his club football in France with PSG. They both scored to wipe out a 2-0 deficit and share points. And if you forgot, this was Suarez’s first game for his country after serving his ban for biting Italy’s Georgio Chiellini in the World Cup. My point being, once you choose to be a professional player, you have to be ready to adapt.

But what does happen with these countries and many others, too, is that they’re playing together at every possible opportunity. Every FIFA-sanctioned date is made the most of and that is something I feel we should be doing more. I’ve said this in as many words on numerous occasions, in interviews and on stages — we need to be playing more as a nation and against quality opposition in Asia, if we are to start making any sort of strides in terms of ranking.

It amazes and pains me in equal measure to see so many, smaller and war-torn nations in Asia, with every possible hurdle you can imagine, shining on the football field. Syria, Iraq, Palestine are just a few names that come to mind. I am also amazed by the run that Thailand is orchestrating. They finished Group F as leaders after churning out some amazing results with consistency and will now move into the final round of qualification. It just goes to show how everyone around is moving ahead and we really need to get our act together.

All this brings us back to the one word — calendar. As it stands there’s the ISL, the I-League and the national team and there are a fair number of players who are part of all three set ups, making it really difficult on them as well as the teams they represent. A unified league, the schedule of which is drawn in tandem with the national team will go a long way in improving Indian football. It may be easier said than done but it surely is the right way.

On a parting note, our World Cup qualifying campaign has seen so many players make their India debuts, most of them youngsters. And it’s very pleasing to see the kind if talent that we, as a nation, possess. A few other senior players and I try to do all we can to set a right example for these youngsters, who, I am certain, will do justice to the faith shown in them.

Enough time has been spent in asking why we haven’t been able to succeed. Instead, we need to collectively give the cause the best of our ability and be the change we want to see.