The tussle between Indian Super League (ISL) clubs and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) regarding releasing players for the Asian Games 2023 in Hangzhou has grabbed headlines in the days leading up to the event.
With Asian Games football for India starting on September 19 and the new ISL season starting on September 21, both entities (ISL and AIFF) seemed to have reached an impasse, and there were several twists and turns leading up to the final announcement of the final 22-member men’s squad for the Hanhgzhou games.
For Chennaiyin FC head coach Owen Coyle, who will see his team kick-off its ISL campaign against Odisha FC on Saturday, the situation cannot be looked at from a black-and-white perspective, and there isn’t a single solution that can serve as the answer.
“The solution is very difficult - that is the true answer to that. You have to understand that in the ideal world, did I want to lose Rahim [Ali] and Vincy [Barretto]? No. Because I want them available for me against Odisha, as every other coach in the ISL would want,” Coyle said.
“You want your strongest pool of players available [and] to pick the best team from that. Obviously, we don’t have that, and a lot of others don’t have.”
With the start of the ISL and the Asian Games scheduled at such close proximity to each other, Coyle said it was just a matter of unfortunate timing.
“We also have the FIFA windows coming up. You understand from the league’s position, that you don’t want to stop-start stop-start, which is happening because of the international calendar because there are a lot of games. You have the January time [AFC Asian Cup] as well, and there is an awful lot going on in a short period of time.”
Looking out for the best interests
Coyle said that everyone wants the national team to do well but pointed out that it would be impractical to negate the point of view of the club owners or the coaches.
“I think the owners deserve tremendous credit because they have invested a lot of money over 10 years. So, you want to understand that the people would want to protect their interests and have the best team for themselves.”
A balancing act
Both national duty and club football have their respective importance, and Coyle said that the closest solution is to find a balancing act. The Scotsman pointed out that clubs always deal with the loss of players, so it is a difficulty that should not be overlooked.
“We already had, as you know, during the U-23 tournament (AFC U-23 qualifiers) - Bikash [Yumnam], Ninthoi [Ninthoinganba Meetei] and Jeetu [Jiteshwor Singh] missing. And now, Rahim and Vincy. So, we always have players missing and it is a difficult thing to balance.”
“I don’t think there is a right or wrong. I think it’s just the circumstances, what you do, and you try to do the best possible. As long you do it openly and honestly, people will accept [it].”
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