After being relegated from the I-League,former Air India players call for the club to be run in a more professional manner.
The writing was always on the wall. Flying through turbulence for quite some time,it was only a question of when,and not whether,would Air India be relegated to second division. Finally,they seem to be put out of misery.
It all looked good for Air India when they began the season with a bang by winning its maiden Durand Cup title. Beating cash-rich city rivals Dodsal FC (now Mumbai Tigers),managed by former Air India coach Bimal Ghosh,in the final of the country’s oldest competition made it sweeter. Alas,it proved to be a false alarm.
One of the oldest football club’s from the city,Air India are relegated to the second division of the I-League after a 4-0 drubbing to Pune FC on Sunday. The airmen are placed 13th in the 14-team league,managing only 19 points from 25 matches,winning four,losing 14 while managing to draw seven. Air India were last relegated from the top division in 1998.
Air India has a rich history for producing fine,young players and giving them an opportunity to compete in the big league. But low budget and poor management meant they were always battling for survival,no matter how good the quality of players. It’s an end of a glorious era and is a sad day for Mumbai football, says former Air India coach Santosh Kashyap. Air India has been one of the pillars of the sport in the city and hopefully,they’ll be back in the big league soon.
It wouldn’t be harsh to say that Air India have scripted their own downfall. For any club to achieve even mediocre success,stability is the key. After parting ways with veteran tactician Ghosh who was associated with the club for close to a decade Air India have had as many as five coaches,including three in the ongoing season. Needless to say,it was a major contributing factor that led to their downfall.
They started the season with former Air India player Godfrey Pereira,who was in charge for three matches before he parted ways. His assistant Anthony Fernandes was the interim coach and by the time Naushad Mousa was hired,more than half of the season had already passed. It is difficult for the players to get accustomed to a coach’s tactics. Having three coaches in one season means no one really got settled,which eventually shows in the performance, says Pereira.
That they had to play their home matches in Pune,owing to the renovation work at Cooperage,which didn’t help their cause. To make matters worse,All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) decision to expel them severely affected the team’s morale. The parent body had decided to kick out Air India and ONGC from I-League next season as they had failed to comply with Asian Football Confederation’s licensing norms. Looking at the manner in which the club is run,you can realise why the AIFF is insisting on the club being a separate legal entity. There are delays at every level. For example,when the club has to appoint a coach,they need to wait for at least two months to get necessary approvals. This year,they had begun the process of appointing Naushad as the chief coach after five matches into the season and by the time he joined the club,the team had played close to 20 matches, said a former Air India player,requesting anonymity. So it is important that the club separates itself from the parent body. It needs to be more professional to be successful.
Air India manager Joginder Thapa says the federation could have handled the situation better. It was announced right in middle of the season. So there was hardly any motivation after the news broke. It surely had an impact on the players; it’s obvious. But at every team meeting,we tried to cheer them up and make them aware of the task at hand. Our motto was simple,we told players to continue playing and end the season on a high. Behind the scenes,the management was trying to keep the club afloat, Thapa says.
It remains to be seen if Air India are allowed to compete in the second division as well. If they are,Air India would be hoping to bounce back like they did last time when they were relegated. But Thapa is under no illusions. We need to make a lot of changes. The second division is very tough and we’ll need to have a competitive side to make an immediate return to the I-League. Before that,I hope the issue with AIFF is sorted, Thapa said.