The casualty of the foreign influx

CABRAL Sports Club in Goa, which plays in the second division of the National Football League, may not be as popular as fellow Goan club Dempo Sports Club, the recently crowned NFL champion.

CABRAL Sports Club in Goa, which plays in the second division of the National Football League, may not be as popular as fellow Goan club Dempo Sports Club, the recently crowned NFL champion. Still the decision of the Cabral SC authorities to disband the team is a significant development in Indian football, especially in the wake of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) executive committee's decision to revoke the ban on foreign players in the second division of the NFL from next season. The powers-that-be of Cabral SC explained that the disbanding was necessitated because of the club's inability to field a good team of quality players. This, if anything, is a pointer to the troubled times ahead for Indian football. That the AIFF has succumbed to the pressures of the top clubs, especially those in Goa and Bengal, is one aspect but what is disturbing is that there is little emphasis on broadbasing the sport.

Nobody is arguing that foreign players should be stopped from coming into Indian football. But instead of confining them to the top division of the league, the AIFF decision to extend their participation to the second division, major domestic tournaments and even the local league shows that the governing body of the sport is dancing to sponsors' tune.

After all, the parent body has been eagerly seeking the patronage of major TV networks for its various programmes and quality has been identified by television networks as the sine qua non for coverage. And, the general perception is that the much-needed quality has come from the foreign players. AIFF President Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi has said that until the country is able to find quality players of the like seen in the seventies and eighties foreign players will need to mingle with the Indians.

That begs the question: How do we find players of the calibre of the stars of seventies and eighties when the focus is on foreign players and — if the last eight years of the NFL is any index — when they carry away all the honours?

The previous national coach Stephen Constantine has lamented that the influx of foreign players has come in the way of Indian talent blossoming, particularly in specialist positions. That is all the more reason that barring the top division of the NFL all other fixtures in the country should be truly desi in nature.

The NFL second division this year was bereft of any foreign player, in keeping with the AIFF guidelines, but that in no way diluted the competition. Be it Chennai or Jamshedpur, the lovers of the game enjoyed the keen contests and if the AIFF did not think it appropriate to have an observer to watch the proceedings and take note of the best talent on view then the fault lies with it.

The AIFF has to accept that big money is available only to the top clubs in the country, which invariably are located in Goa and Bengal. This enables them to make big investments on players from South American or African countries.

But, at the lower level, it is difficult even to maintain a side let alone make huge investments. An experienced outfit like Indian Bank, an ex-NFL side, struggled to find a foreign player on its terms. It is said that what a major club paid a top Brazilian almost amounted to the total budget that the Bank had earmarked for the team! If this is the reality that an institution team can face then the plight of private clubs in various remote parts of the country can well be imagined if they are required to compete with teams that have foreign players.

It is here that the disbanding of Cabral SC becomes significant. At a time when the Asian Football Confederation stresses the importance of planned growth, the latest directive from the AIFF sends a wrong signal.

Not only would it sound the death knell of several clubs aspiring to make a mark in the NFL second division before enlarging their ambitions but worse, the competition would boil down to serve the interests of the clubs of a few states.

Already, the current format of the NFL has thrown up a scenario where clubs of Goa and Bengal have virtually dominated the premier league. On the flip side are Kerala and Karnataka, equally strong football-based states but never quite rising to the occasion.

It is this trend that has to be corrected. Perhaps, professional coaches from abroad can be used from time to time to tone up coaching standards and even professional administrators to train officials can help in some levelling up.

The recent AIFF decision, instead, would certainly help leading Indian clubs but will it kindle Indian football remains the big question.