Santosh Trophy players should be considered for national team selection: AIFF chief 

Kalyan Chaubey said Santosh Trophy is not inferior to I-League or ISL and players featuring in it should be considered for national team selection.
Image used for representational purpose only.
Image used for representational purpose only.

RIYADH: All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Kalyan Chaubey wants the players featuring in the Santosh Trophy national football championships here to be considered for national team selection, saying nobody can be barred from playing for the country on the basis of the nature of competitions.

While supporting the AIFF's bid to revive Santosh Trophy, national team head coach Igor Stimac had recently suggested that the national championships can be a stepping stone for the players to join I-League and Indian Super League (ISL), and from there they can stake claim to the Indian team.

Most of the current national team footballers play in the ISL, which is the top-tier of the Indian domestic structure. But Chaubey said Santosh Trophy is not inferior to I-League or ISL and players featuring in it should be considered for national team selection.

"Anywhere in the world, an individual having football potential to contribute and strengthen the national team, having Indian passport, (there can be) no bar for him to get a chance, no restriction for a coach or selector not to see him," Chaubey said.

"They (players playing in Santosh Trophy) should be considered for national team selection. It (happens) everywhere in the world," he said in response to a specific question. "I need not say anything, it is understood if talent is there and it's worth taking in the national team, then the player would be in the national team." 

In the last 10 years, Santosh Trophy has lost much of its relevance with players from I-League and ISL not featuring in it, though the AIFF is trying to bring back its past glory when India's star players used to compete in the tournament.

Most of India's foreign coaches in the past, especially Englishman Bob Houghton, were against the country's international players participating in the Santosh Trophy on account of its perceived low standard.

But Chaubey said that all the competitions taking place in India are of equal importance.

"I have no reason to believe that the Santosh Trophy is inferior or less important than any other tournament being played in India. People must not consider any tournament as superior. All the competitions are of equal importance."

"Santosh Trophy is equal (with any other competition) and may be in three years' time, if people say ISL, I-League and Santosh Trophy are in the same bracket and these three tournaments are of same importance for senior professional players, I will not be surprised." 

He also said that the time has come for the widening of the pool of probables from which the Indian team can be selected.

"National team has been selected out of 45 to 50 players who are in the probables' list. But a country like India can have more than 50 players in the list. Maybe, our coaches want to limit it to 50 players. But, the time has come for the pool of probables to be expanded. Time has come to think and see differently."

"So, it goes without saying, if there is talent and competition going on and players are playing, why are you (selectors) not going. You may not go as a chief selector but his deputy can go." 

Just before the start of the Saudi Arabia leg of the Santosh Trophy, Stimac had said Santosh Trophy can be a platform for the players to be noticed by I-League and ISL clubs.

"Although the Santosh Trophy has changed with regard to which player can play, it's still very important for the players who are not in the I-League or ISL," Stimac had said.

"It's a platform for them to show their technical and tactical abilities. Tomorrow they can be scouted by an ISL or I-League club and then go on to play for them, which would bring them to the attention of the national coach."

"The Santosh Trophy is ultimately helping the national team coach, and I hope that it will keep giving us more names in ISL and I-League in the future," he had said.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino, meanwhile, wished good luck to the AIFF and the Santosh Trophy finalists.

"We, FIFA and AIFF, will work together to ensure that the Santosh Trophy will become better and bigger in the years to come. (We will have) a true partnership in this...and you will hear many more great news," he said in a video message.

Meanwhile, Services player Adersh Mattummal, who suffered a shin bone fracture during his side's semi-final match against Karnataka, will undergo surgery at a local hospital here, the cost of which will be borne by the AIFF.

Karnataka beat Services 3-1 on Wednesday to set up a summit clash against Meghalaya on Saturday.

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