India’s footballers failed to make their tryst with destiny in the Olympic qualifiers. The 62-yearold jinx remains. Since 1959 India has never gone beyond the second round of qualifiers in the pre-Olympics. In 1959, India beat both Afghanistan and Indonesia (home and away) and qualified for the Rome Olympics.
After that India have always faltered at either the first or the second round.
In their home match against Qatar, prodigal India wasted several chances including a penalty kick; otherwise an upset win at Pune was possible. India played with commitment and some lesser known players — tenacious tackler and defender Arnab Mondal (Chirag United), bustling striker Manandeep Singh and lanky left back Gurjinder Kumar (Pune FC’s Under 23 player of the year) excelled.
Omitting Mohun Bagan’s left midfielder Sneshashish Chakraborty from the bench was also a blunder as he possesses the dribbling skills and composure to disturb a tight marking back four.
It was a missed opportunity for India as several star players did not play to their potential, either burdened by expectations or more likely distracted by lucrative offers from clubs. Creative midfielder Jewel Raja Sheikh faltered in both legs of the qualifiers against Qatar. The incisive passes and subtle link ups with his forwards was missing as he is distracted by Bagan’s offer.
Jewel Sheikh’s ambition is to buy a Ferrari one day. To realise this dream he needs the big money from the Kolkata clubs. He tends to be inconsistent and needs to be mentally tougher to play top-level football.
He has a penchant for fast motorbikes and has paid almost 3 lakh to buy a Ninja bike. So he has to choose between fulfilling immediate consumer fantasies or long term development as a footballer.
A similar predicament faces Mizoram’s glamour boy striker Jeje Lalpekhlua.
Coach Desmond Bulpin said that because of pressure on Jeje from various clubs, he has been withdrawn as India’s number one penalty taker. At Pune, Jeje’s best friend and Mizoram teammate Lalrindika Ralte missed the vital penalty kick, which was the turning point of the match.
Injury-prone skipper Raju Eknath Gaikwad, has a big offer from East Bengal.
However at club level he will not get the same medical assistance and physiotherapist’s help as with the national team. He needs another season to toughen up before joining full time professional football.
The All India Football Federation must be decisive in nurturing these talented players of Indian Arrows. It would be wiser to retain them for another year so that they get more mature in coping with the power politics and pressures involved in Indian club football.
At present, the AIFF is making an offer to the players that those who want to play for various clubs can depart and the others can stay. This is being done because AIFF chief Praful Patel had requested the clubs to release these players for only one season in the national interest.
Both East Bengal and Salgaocar, who have signed several of the Indian Arrows players, want them back. So a tug of war is taking place between the clubs and the AIFF for the services of the India players.