Staying rooted in the past

Staying rooted in the past

The playing style remained the same, the frustrations and misgivings about the national team refused to go away while infrastructure did not see any improvement. 

The biggest disappointment, though, was not that the Indian team failed but that they actually regressed.

Having won the South Asian Football Federation Championships three times since 2005, India were expected to win the tournament comfortably when it was held in Nepal in August-September.

However, Indian football and comfortable don't go hand in hand and they promptly served up  depressing affairs throughout the tournament before losing the final to Afghanistan.

Two months after the final loss, the AIFF rewarded Wim Koevermans with a contract extension till the Incheon Asian Games next year when most wanted him to be sacked. 

Fast forward a couple of months and the world's governing football body, FIFA, announced that India had won the rights to host the 2017 Under-17 World Cup.

Indian clubs and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) had been involved in a tussle over various issues. In early August, the National body attempted to show who was the boss, announcing that 13 of the then 14 I-League clubs — including the likes of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal — had failed its Club Licensing Test (Pune FC, on review, cleared the test).

Pune FC has generally been viewed as the flagbearer for a model club and its professionalism and outlook were rewarded when the Asian Football Confederation awarded a Champions League play-off place for next season to the club.

In more good news for Indian clubs, East Bengal also made the country proud by reaching the semifinals of the AFC Cup, becoming just the second Indian club to achieve the feat.
In the I-League, Churchill Brothers captured their second title, while steel giants, JSW, brought it back to Bangalore with Bengaluru FC, whose initial days in the top flight suggest something big and grand.

Not everything, though, did go to plan.

Having wanted an IPL-style league-cum-knockout football competition, AIFF spent the better part of the last year releasing statements about the franchises, salary caps and the legends that have agreed to either play or coach (Kenny Dalglish, Robert Pires, Marcel Desailly and Robbie Fowler just to name a few have already been roped in as players or coaches) in the competition.

They even named it the Indian Super League and it was supposed to begin in January 2014. But it did not take off and the AIFF released another statement saying that the event was postponed 'to September 2014.' 

There were a few personal glories as the autumn finally brought some good news for the fans.

Sunil Chhetri, who broke the national scoring record of 42 goals set by former captain Bhaichung Bhatia, and goalkeeper Subrata Pal, who will move to Danish Superliga side FC Vestsjaelland once the winter transfer window opens, were rare winners.

The promise of what might be is what keeps Indian football and it's fans going. There is hope that the AIFF's Technical Director Rob Baan, who extended his association with Indian football, might unearth a few youngsters. And India needs young talent urgently because it's sad when Jeje Lalpekhlua, a player who broke into the national team in 2011, wins the Emerging Player of the Year award.

If India wins the bid to host the Club World Cup, a competition that AIFF President Praful Patel is eager to host in 2015 and 2016, there is hope that infrastructure could finally improve.

But a statutory warning: hope also kills.

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