The All India Football Federation (AIFF) finds itself in a challenging predicament as it grapples with the unyielding stance of Indian Super League (ISL) clubs, who are reluctant to release their players for the upcoming Asian Games 2023. This decision comes in the wake of India’s recent loss to Lebanon in the King’s Cup, prompting the AIFF to extend the stay of nine national squad members in Thailand. However, this move has not been well-received by ISL clubs, casting doubt on the players’ availability for the crucial tournament in China later this month.
AIFF’s Risky Move Backfires
In a risky move, the AIFF decided to keep nine national squad players in Thailand for an extra day following their King’s Cup matches. These players, all integral to Igor Stimac’s plans for the Asian Games 2023, were asked to stay back despite prior assurances from the AIFF that they would return on Monday, September 11. This decision marked the beginning of a contentious issue between the AIFF and ISL clubs.
ISL Clubs Stand Their Ground
ISL clubs have stood firm in their resolve not to release their players in time for the Asian Games. The delay in the players’ return from Thailand triggered discussions between AIFF officials and club representatives regarding the players’ involvement in Asian Games preparations.
AIFF Secretary General Shaji Prabhakaran shed light on the situation, stating, “We had booked only one ticket for the Asian Games-bound players, with the plan being for them to continue their training in Thailand and then head to China for the Asian Games. We had the FIFA window until September 12, so we were actively seeking the release of players from the clubs.” However, despite these efforts, the clubs have not yet agreed to release the players for the Asian Games, forcing the AIFF’s hand.
Players Affected by Delay
The players whose departure was postponed by a day included notable names such as Sandesh Jhingan, Anwar Ali, Akash Mishra, Jeakson Singh, Rahul KP, Rahim Ali, Naorem Mahesh, Suresh Singh, and Lalchungungha. With the ISL set to kick off on September 21, just two days after the Asian Games, clubs are understandably reluctant to release their star players.
ISL vs. Asian Games Dilemma
The ISL primarily operates as an under-24 competition, with teams allowed to feature three senior players. Since the Asian Games fall outside the FIFA international window, there is no obligation on the part of the clubs to release their players for the tournament. This clash of interests has created a complex situation that the AIFF is struggling to navigate.
Challenges for AIFF and ISL Clubs
The scheduling of fixtures has further compounded the problem. Mumbai City FC, for instance, is set to play their inaugural AFC Champions League match against Nassaji Mazandaran on September 18. This scheduling conflict leaves several players unavailable for Odisha FC’s AFC Cup debut against Mohun Bagan Super Giant on September 19, at least for the first game.
An AIFF official expressed the organization’s stance, saying, “The plan now is to take just two players from each team. We do not want to put any club at a disadvantage since the ISL will be in progress. We are hopeful of finding a solution.“
A Clouded Path to the Asian Games
As the Indian squad is expected to fly to China on September 16, there won’t be a training camp due to the clubs’ reluctance to release their players. India’s group matches at the Asian Games are scheduled against China on September 19, followed by Bangladesh on September 21, and Myanmar on September 24. The uncertainty surrounding the players’ availability casts a shadow over India’s preparations for this crucial tournament.
The standoff between ISL clubs and the AIFF over the release of players for the Asian Games 2023 has created a challenging situation. The conflicting interests of club football and international competition have left the AIFF with limited options. As the Asian Games draw near, finding a resolution to this impasse becomes increasingly vital for India’s football aspirations.