Indian footballers, led by captain Bhaichung Bhutia, today threw their weight behind coach Bob Houghton and said the country's football fortunes would nosedive if the Englishman quits his job.
Miffed at the way the All Indian Football Federation was looking for his successor after his current tenure expires on January 31 next year, Houghton has sent his resignation but the AIFF has rejected it.
Bhutia pleaded the authorities to cooperate with Houghton and said India ill-affords to let the Englishman go before the Asian Cup in Qatar in January next year.
"It's sad that we are not cooperating with Houghton and obstructing in his way of functioning. It will be a big setback for Indian football if he leaves at this stage, when we are getting ready for Asian Cup. We need him more than anything else," Bhutia told PTI.
"I am sure Indian football profile will go up with his support. He had a big role in our qualification for Asian Cup. He is taking Indian football in the right direction. India need him more than Houghton needs us," added Bhutia, who also heads the Football Players' Association of India.
"I just hope the issue gets sorted out as soon as possible. I know he has offers from Bahrain, Australia, so it's easy for him to go. But right now, we need people like Houghton, the team wants him," he said.
The Sikkimese said Houghton had the well-being of Indian football in his mind and because of him the game has witnessed some upward movement in the country.
"Indian football has not changed in the last 30-40 years. There has to be changes, in terms of structure and overall basis. People should be ready to accept changes. But there are some who do not want change. He (Houghton) is not doing for his personal benefit. We need to sit out and experiment with new ideas," said Bhutia.
Bhutia's national team-mate Gouramangi Singh credited the "gradual rise in profile" in Indian football to Houghton and said his leaving the job at this stage will demoralise the players.
"Credit for the improvement of players and gradual rise of profile of the sport in the country in the last three years should mainly go to Houghton. If he goes now Indian football would go back to the square one," said the central defender.
India's number one goalkeeper Subrata Pal, who prospered under Houghton in the last few years, said football in the country will suffer if he leaves now.
"The step forward we have taken holding Bob's hand has been great. If he leaves Indian football will fall back by 50 years. Indian football will suffer a lot. We can not let this happen," he said.