I-League soccer: Title race wide open

BANGALORE: As the 2011-2012 14-team I-League soccer passes the halfway mark of home and away games, any of the top four could end on top of the heap at the end of it all. None of the top clubs

Published: 12th January 2012 01:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 06:13 PM   |  A+A-


Bengal and Chirag United Kerala during the 11th round of I-League

BANGALORE: As the 2011-2012 14-team I-League soccer passes the halfway mark of home and away games, any of the top four could end on top of the heap at the end of it all. None of the top clubs have strutted champion stuff so far and their performances have been ordinary to put it mildly. With the top two representing the country in the AFC Champions League and the Federation Cup winners playing the AFC Challenge Cup, the standard on display is a matter of concern no doubt.

Most of the home boys too haven’t really performed to expectations. Consequently, the national team still does not have many stars in the making. Stars like Sunil Chhetri or Climax Lawrence are established ones. Apart from Pune FC’s Jeje Lalpekhlua and Churchill Brothers’ Lalrindika Ralte, the others have to improve a lot if they are to ensure a decent performance at the international arena. Goalkeeper Subhasish Roychowdhury of Dempo has been outstanding and if Dempo are on top at the moment, it is largely due to his brilliance under the bar.

It’s more than a decade and a half since its inception and after 2000, the I-League has not thrown up quality players for the national pool. Clubs have the option of signing four foreigners with three of them in the playing eleven. But with limitation of finances, clubs have not really been able to rope in the top class foreign players either leading to a general drop in known standards. The likes of Samuel Omollo or Stephen Abarowei or Jose Ramirez Barretto at his best contributed a great deal to inspire players to raise their games a notch or two.

That resulted in some superb football while enabling players to polish their skills with the result that India did superbly even against quality opposition in World Cup or Olympic qualifiers. The All India Football Federation has studiously toed the Asian Football Confederation’s guidelines in adopting measures supposed to lead to professionalism. In doing so, knowledgeable men have been forced to stay out with mediocre men being appointed as coaches only because they have a A license coaching certificate.

India’s Technical Director Rob Baan of Netherlands recently said that the talent he has witnessed so far has not been up to his expectations and that a lot of emphasis must be placed on scouting and coaching young talent.

Baan also said that a good coach makes sure that the players avoid making mistakes but when the co­­­aches themselves are not good enough, how can the players learn? Blame it on the AFC and FIFA. Well having a coaching qualification can always be an advantage but to have only men with a certificate is detrimental to the clubs’ interests when they have men with ability but without academic qualification but they cannot be utilised.

Veteran Nigerian Ranti Martins Soleye of Dempo heads the scoring charts with a mere 14 goals. Nigerian Odafa Onyeka Okelie of Mohun Bagan comes next with 10 strikes. Among the top ten scorers, there is only one Indian striker in Manandeep Singh of Air India who has scored five goals.

In 91 completed games so far, 254 goals have been scored with a little more than two goals per match. Considering that this year there are 14 teams compared to just 10 or 12 previously, teams have more games to play but the average hasn’t gone up proportionately in terms of matches.

In any case, the show must go on. The most surprising aspect of the first phase is defending champions Salgaocar dropping to the eighth spot. Just three points separate the top four with the fifth placed Pune FC breathing down their necks just two more points adrift.

It is still any team’s c’ship with no­ne in a position to lay any authoritative claim to it. As the winter months pass and summer sets in, pl­aying on artificial surfaces is bound to become even more tougher resulting in more injuries and a further drop in playing levels. But will any one bother to initiate measures for improvement?


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