When India's interim football coach Armando Colaco announced his first list of probables many big names were conspicuous by their absence, none more so than Bhaichung Bhutia, the India captain in their last major assignment, the Asian Cup finals in January.
Bhutia though is still working his way to peak fitness. After a lengthy calf injury layoff, he played as central defender for United Sikkim FC in their failed bid to qualify for next season's I-League first division. Colaco though had no qualms about omitting India's all-time leading goal scorer and its only footballer with over 100 caps from the list of 42 probables for next month's World Cup qualifiers against the UAE.
"Who is Bhaichung, or the rest of the seniors (Anwar Ali, Renedy Singh, Surkumar Singh, NP Pradeep), to merit automatic selection?" Colaco, also Dempo's coach and general secretary, told HT. "I'm not saying they won't have a chance to win back their place. But, at the moment I'm going with the best players on current form, not on past reputations."
Pradeep has been disciplined by the federation for criticising it on a social network site — a charge he has denied and apologised for already. The omission of Baljeet Sahni, who scored a number of crucial goals for East Bengal though is a surprise.
Team for the future
"I had a word with (AIFF general secretary) Kushal Das before selecting the probables. He told me to pick a team that will serve the country for the next 5-10 years," he said. It is difficult to see Mahesh Gawli (31) or Sandip Nandy (36) go that far though.
Colaco has picked eight players from Indian Arrows, the AIFF's development team, including strike Jeje Lalpekhula.
Asked whether veteran playmaker Climax Lawrence, who plays under Colaco at Dempo, will be the captain, Colaco said he would adopt a rotation policy, like former India coach Ciric Milovan. "I will rotate it among senior players, Mahesh (Gawli), Sunil (Chhetri), and if we qualify for the final round of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers I will announce a permanent captain."
India are likely to play four friendlies in July including one against Qatar to prepare for the qualifiers.