CHENNAI: A couple of weeks ago when Stephen Constantine was set to announce his list of probables for the Asian Cup, Michael Soosairaj wasn’t so crestfallen.
“It would be wrong to say I did not expect to be in it,” he said.
“I knew I had played well for my club.”
Yet when the list came, he was not on it. For Soosairaj, the feeling of disappointment was familiar. Last year, he had been tipped to make his international debut following a string of impressive performances in the I-League for Chennai City FC. That call never came, predictably so, for Constantine rarely picked players from the I-League.
But this year was supposed to be different. He had carried over his impressive performances to the Indian Super League at Jamshedpur FC.
He had outscored both Farukh Choudhary and Sumeet Passi, his Jamshedpur teammates who have made it to Constantine’s squad. He has more goals than Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh put together. Yet, he will watch on a television screen when India march out for their Asian Cup opener against Thailand on January 6.
Another player who has got fans up in arms over his exclusion from Constantine’s squad is Bengaluru FC defender Rahul Bheke. The 28-year-old, who is equally comfortable on both sides of the backline, has been the standout performer in the best defence of the league. He’s even chipped in with a couple of goals which is more than what can be said of some of the forwards going to the UAE.
The news that he was not even in the initial squad prompted his teammate Eric Paartalu to tweet out his surprise.
“So basically Rahul Bheke isn’t in the top 34 Indian footballers. Just got voted player of the month, scored 2 important goals (during) the last few weeks including a winner, amazing assist last game (while) playing out of position at left back for the team coming first (in the table).”
The levels of bafflement over the exclusion of the man that Bengaluru FC fans have nicknamed ‘Bhekenbaur’ are so high that the club’s coach Carles Cuadrat was forced to offer his two cents on the topic after Bengaluru’s final game before the break.
“I think all the football supporters in India have the feeling that Rahul Bheke is one of the best defensive players in the country, and he is showing that in every game,” Cuadrat said. “So, if the coach is taking the decision (to pick the team), maybe he has other plans.”
While Bheke himself doesn’t want to talk about why he isn’t in the squad, Soosairaj says it is a decision that he has to accept.
“After the squad was out, my coach (Jamshedpur FC’s Cesar Ferrando) had a talk with me. He asked me to just keep playing as well as I can and I know that is what I have to do,” Soosairaj said.
“Ultimately, who to pick is the national coach’s decision and I know I have to just accept it.”