Guess what Dipak Mondal and Mehrajuddin Wadao were doing 22 hours after the gruelling duel in a mud park against Saudi Arabia?
They turned out for Mohan Bagan for another battle against George Telegraph in the IFA Premier Division!
Seventy minutes into the match, India skipper Bhaichung Bhutia, exhorted by the stands, joined the party in a futile effort to break the 1-1 stalemate.
It’s just as well that Bob Houghton, who has a lot of time for clubs and had dinner with coaches of the Big Three here, had taken an early flight out of the city.
All India Football Federation (AIFF) general-secretary Alberto Colaco was in town but refrained from commenting on an incident that wouldn’t have too many parallels in international football.
None of the players, Bhutia included, wanted to comment. It is surprising that Bhutia, who once refused to play because he thought the ground wasn’t right, agreed to being involved in back-to-back matches — especially after Wednesday’s high intensity game on a heavy ground, against a team with 10 World Cup players.
Even those not clued in would know that it is inhuman to play on successive days. Mohun Bagan coach Biswajit Bhattacharya, one of Ciric Milovan’s favourites in his time as a player and one whose admiration for the Yugoslav coach’s methods is well known, though cited a litany of injury worries as reason.
"Had I not forced Lolendra Singh (who is getting back from injury) to be on the bench, I would not have 18 players on the list. Most of the players are injured and I simply did not have a choice."
"I had thought of giving Bhaichung a break but I had to bring him on after we conceded. Expectation hits the roof every time one of the Big Three take the field," Biswajit said.
Bhattacharya had complained about the schedule. But his club agreed and the IFA thought it was okay. The fixture released by the IFA last month had this match slotted for Wednesday. The revised schedule pushed it back by one day.
This, despite the clubs being aware of the India-Saudi Arabia match six months ago.
Pradip Chowdhury, a former Mohun Bagan and India captain and Houghton’s first manager, said it wasn’t fair on the players. "I know the compulsions of the clubs but I can understand what the players must have gone through.
“It takes a minimum of four days to recover from a match against such top class opponents. I told Mohun Bagan’s football secretary yesterday that he shouldn’t have agreed to playing this match," Chowdhury said.
Compulsions of a tight calendar and injury worries aren’t unique to Indian football; poor planning is. In a situation like this, Arsene Wenger’s resting Thierry Henry for a Champions League qualifier would seem alien.