Before Aizawl FC played their first I-league match against Mohun Bagan, I had not seen them play ever. Against Bagan, under their Spanish coach, Manuel Retamero Fraile, they played some amazing football. Short crisp passing and movement, which is not a very usual sight in Indian football. Even though they lost the match 3-1, they did not look like a team who were newly promoted and looked like a solid unit. Joy to watch but not efficient enough. For all that flair and style, Aizawl was not able to convert their chances. When they played at home, matches were sold out and got good support all through the league. Eventually, they fell short and is about to get the boot from I-league. But do they really deserve to be relegated?
Should have been more ambitious and pragmatic?
Aizawl played good football but they lacked a good striker to convert those chances. It was clear that they wouldn’t have escaped relegation without some quality players. But instead of recruiting some players, they went ahead and sacked their coach.
Aizawl under Manuel Retamero Fraile : L D L W L L
Aizawl under Jahar Das : D W L D L W L D L W
As evident, their fortunes did not change drastically even after they replaced their coach. Under Jahar Das, AFC did add Joel Sunday, a Nigerian striker who scored quite a few goals for them. However, I feel they should have retained their Spanish coach and should have added some more quality players to their side. If I-league players were too costly, they should have checked for some 2nd division players. Some more quality in their squad would have definitely helped their case.
Should Aizawl FC stay up?
The northeastern region in India is currently the hotbed of Indian football, especially Mizoram. They have a very promising set up in the state in terms of league and development. No wonder there are over 40 players from Mizoram playing in I-league. This was not achieved overnight. It is the fruition of a dedicated effort over the years – the results are there to show. Mizoram’s Santosh trophy win in 2014 and their victory at the National Games is a testament to that commitment. Aizawl FC’s entry into I-league after topping the 2nd division is a gradual and logical progression in Mizoram’s football journey. The question is should we have to forcefully halt that progression?
Over the last few years, we have had many clubs coming in and going out of I-league, especially from North East. If Rangdajied was thrown out, Royal Wahindoh decided to shut down their senior team after a swashbuckling appearance in I-league. And now Aizawl is on the brink of relegation. Whatever the reasons are, this is some serious injustice to clubs from the North East where football is undergoing considerable growth and is a huge market.
Resources of these clubs from North East might not match with others in the league, but what they have is sheer passion and commitment towards the sport. Take Royal Wahingdoh for example. They withdrew from I-league, but they have been a strong presence in the U-15 League, of which they were the runners-up after going down to Minerva on penalties.
If we are to reward the North East region and their football, instead of being a destructive force, stakeholders in Indian football should handhold these clubs to success. That could only lead to more aspiring clubs from North East to vie for spots in I-league and 2nd division.
The latest edition of I-league was a nine-team affair after Royal Wahindogh and Bharat FC backing out. If Aizwal is retained in the league and with another team promoted from the 2nd division, the number of teams in the I-league for the next edition could be a respectable ten.
As the data from the poll, I conducted on FNI suggests, a lot of fans are in favor of Aizawl FC staying up in the league. It’s time the voices are heard out loud and clear – let’s hope someone is taking a note.