The second edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) will kick-off on October 3 and amid the hype and hoopla it has become the reason for a massive headache for national team coach Stephen Constantine.
The Englishman expressed his unhappiness to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on Monday after the national camp ahead of the 2018 World Cup/2019 Asian Cup joint qualifier against Turkmenistan, scheduled to be held from September 29, had to be called off after the ISL clubs refused to release the national team players.
Constantine was concerned that the team will be under-prepared for key Group D matches against Turkmenistan on October 8 and Oman on October 13.
The Indian players were supposed to undergo a conditioning camp ahead of the twin qualifiers, but it had to be called off after it emerged that the ISL clubs are not willing to release their players earlier than the standard FIFA norm of four days.
India are placed at the bottom of the five-team group and face a must-win situation away at Turkmenistan to keep their Asian Cup hopes alive.
The AIFF sources said the ISL players will join the national team only after the second match-day on October 4. The team will embark on their 12-hour journey to Turkmenistan on October 5 and will have two training sessions together before the all-important tie.
After India’s previous qualifier against Iran in Bangalore, which they lost 3-0, Constantine had said he would prefer to have players together for at least 10 days before the next round of matches and had communicated his plans to the federation as well.
Constantine had stressed that the standard norm of releasing players four days before an international tie works well in Europe, but in India’s context, there needed to be some flexibility since the players do not play together often.
In Monday’s executive committee meeting, where officials from ISL too were present, Constantine made it clear that the national team will not get enough time to prepare for the two qualifying matches.
“He stated the facts as they were, without giving his personal opinion. There’s little the federation can do. The ISL clubs are playing it by the rules but they should have given some thought to the condition of the national team,” a federation official said.
It must be noted that last year, too, the national team did not play any international friendly during the ISL. Meanwhile, it was decided that India’s home qualifier against Guam on November 12 will be played in Bangalore.