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Friday, 31 March 2023
By Dhiman Sarkar

From short to long, an Indian season

A fitting tribute to Tulsidas Balaram at the Hero Tri-nation International Football Tournament. (Image source: Twitter/IFTWC)

It was a coming together of generations. At a venue hosting an international tournament for the first time – the atmosphere created ensured it won’t be the last – Naorem Mahesh Singh, with about 45 minutes’ experience in an India shirt, won a penalty that Sunil Chhetri, in his 133rd game, converted. It killed the contest against a team ranked higher and fetched India the Hero Tri-nation International Football Tournament; skipper Chhetri handing over the trophy to Amrinder Singh before blending into the throng of blue as confetti showered on them on an inky Imphal night.

The club game pausing for the first time since the World Cup also allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to add another record (more on that, later) and made Lionel Messi the planet’s only male player to have won the World Cup and scored over 100 international goals. Even before that the South American federation had decided Messi had done enough to deserve a statue at its museum alongside Pele and Diego Maradona. The international break also took Harry Kane to where no Englishman has and his team to a first win in Italy since 1961.


The year’s first FIFA window opened after Barcelona showed La Liga is theirs to lose and Bayern Munich realised they don’t have much time to lose (more on that later as well). It was when a clutch of teams, including defending champions Senegal, qualified for the 2024 African Cup of Nations; Peru players were involved in an altercation with Spanish police; a Spanish hotel employee was arrested for racially abusing Morocco players who, by beating Brazil, showed that the World Cup was no fluke. It was also when Kylian Mbappe began a new reign as France captain with a mauling so severe that it got Holland coach Ronald Koeaman and defender Nathan Ake worried; Scott McTominay’s goals gave Scotland their first win against Spain since 1984 and Germany and Juergen Klinsmann stuttered at the start of their rebuilding campaigns.

Windows of opportunity

In the time-sharing arrangement between clubs and them, national teams will get four more windows this year. With an Asian Cup finals at the start of 2024 and this being the first time they have qualified for consecutive editions, those breaks become more crucial for Igor Stimac and his staff. It will mean from going to a short season to one that doesn’t really end till July for national team players but with the All India Football Federation keen on maximising opportunities, something that hasn’t always happened, that looks unavoidable.

That could also mean Stimac’s staff will have to be on their toes to minimise injuries and fatigue. A hectic run of games in the homestretch of the Indian Super League meant Manvir Singh wasn’t fit going into the three-nation tournament and Ashique Kuruniyan unavailable. Next month’s Super Cup could add to that list. Stimac has requested clubs to leave out players not fully fit. “The worst player in the squad if fit will be better than the best who is not,” is a mantra the former Croatia defender and coach believes in. Clubs have their own requirements – after all, they pay the salaries – so may not agree with him.

Prior to the Asian Cup, Indian men's football team head coach Igor Stimac seeks a 4-week camp. (Image source:

As of now, Stimac’s plan is to get the players for a camp in May, prune the list to 30-odd before the Hero Inter-continental Cup and the SAFF Championship in June-July. That will be the core of his squad for the Asian Cup next January.

He is also keen on using the September and October FIFA windows and is insisting on a four-week camp in December leading to the Asian Cup. Stimac might even be willing to trade the October window for that but whether ISL plays ball is something he has no control over. And so far, AIFF has not said anything to show that it is in Stimac’s corner.

That camp is essential. They always are for teams ahead of a major tournament where the standard will be higher: India could be the lowest ranked team in the group. It is why Saudi Arabia could beat Argentina. The gap between the Saudi Pro League and the World Cup could only be reduced by sustained, collective work at a preparatory camp. Unlike the football elite, Saudi Arabia could not get into a World Cup with seven days’ training.

Negotiations between Stimac, AIFF and ISL over the next few weeks will be as crucial as India using FIFA windows to get ready for the finals.

Thomas Tuchel takes first Bayern training session. (Image source: Santa Maria Times)

Churn: From Nagelsmann to Marquez

Negotiations happened between clubs and coaches while attention shifted to national teams. So sudden was the decision of Bayern Munich to appoint Thomas Tuchel that it yanked focus back into the club game. Bayern thought the 1-2 defeat at Leverkusen was enough to change Julian Nagelsmann if something had to be salvaged from the season.

For Bayern that means Bundesliga and something else. Bayern needs to stay at the top in Germany, said Philipp Lahm matter-of-factly over a Zoom call explaining why Nagelsmann had to make way. You can listen to the interview in this episode of Kicks For Free. Going into a cluster of matches that include playing Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-final, Der Klassiker at the weekend and the DFB Pokal quarter-final, they thought the international break was the best time to change managers.

East Bengal didn’t do that but should have when they have announced that Stephen Constantine wouldn’t be staying. Why retain a coach who knows he has no future at the club? Is it fair to expect him to stay focused while he hears Manolo Marquez, Josep Gombau, Antonio Lopez Habas and Sergio Lobera being discussed as successors in the media and at the club? Why not go the Tottenham Hotspur way and appoint a deputy after the departure of Antonio Conte, a decision for which Son Heung-min feels personally responsible? Spurs now also have to deal with FIFA’s worldwide ban on Fabio Paratici, their managing director of football but this another story.

Marquez’s departure from Hyderabad FC marks the end of an era. How the club that was at the bottom before he took over and delivered three seasons of consistency, including one ISL title, reacts to that in the Super Cup would be a pointer to their immediate future. If reports of the promising Rohit Danu being sold are true, the immediate signs are not encouraging.



India’s Asian U17 group : India have been grouped with Japan, Vietnam and Uzbekistan in group D of the Asian under-17 championship finals. The tournament will be held in Thailand from June 15 to July 2.

April 25 start: A new season of the Indian Women's League (IWL) will start on April 25 with East Bengal taking part, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has decided. Each team will be allowed three foreign players with two on the pitch at any time. East Bengal may have had a poor ISL season but, by participating in the Calcutta league for men and women, winning the latter to make the IWL list, showed that ATK Mohun Bagan have a lot to learn.

Forward Manish Kalyan becomes the first Indian footballer to win a European league title. (Image source: Twitter/ Indian Football Team)

A first by Kalyan: When Apollon Ladies became champions of the Cyprus first division with an all-win record to boot, it called for celebrations in India. Manisha Kalyan, a national team player who once wowed Brazil with a goal in a tournament in Manaus, was part of the Cyprus team this season. She is the first Indian footballer to win a European league title.

Indonesia removed as host: FIFA removed Indonesia as host of the under-20 men’s World Cup after the governor of Bali refused to host Israel one of the teams that had qualified for the finals. That had led to the draw for the finals scheduled last Friday being cancelled. This could also lead to Indonesia being isolated from football like it was in 2016 when the country was suspended for government interference. Indonesia has no diplomatic ties with Israel.

World Cup windfall: FIFA agreed to a 70% increase in share of World Cup revenues with clubs, says AP. The European Club Association said it renewed its working accord with FIFA through 2030, which also could lead to clubs having a say in managing commercial deals for the revamped Club World Cup that is scheduled to start in 2025. Clubs whose players are in the 2026 and 2030 World Cup finals will get a share from $335 million of FIFA’s income. The pool was $209m for the 2018 and 2022 editions. FIFA conservatively budgeted to earn at least $11 billion from 2023-26.

After a long-term knee injury, Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas is back in training! (Image source:

Putellas back in training: Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas completed part of the training session with her Barcelona women's teammates as she continues to recover from a knee injury, says Reuters. The Spain midfielder injured her knee in July before the women's European Championship. "I'm glad to move on to the next phase of rehabilitation. I'm happy to be back training with the team," Putellas said.

Renard quits: Hervé Renard has quit as coach of Saudi Arabia's national team amid reports he is set to take over France's women's team. The Saudi national team said it had agreed to terminate Renard's contract, ending a four-year spell in charge that was highlighted by a win over eventual champion Argentina in the group stage of the World Cup in Qatar last year, says AP.

Fergie, Wenger in Hall of Fame: Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, who have 16 Premier League titles between them, were the first managers to be inducted to be inducted into the competition’s Hall of Fame. With 13 titles, Ferguson is the Premier League’s most successful manager. Among Wenger’s achievements is winning the title without losing a game in 2003-04.

Also read

Naples paints the town blue for first Scudetto since Maradona era


(Image source: ANI)

The score was 1-2 in Uzbekistan’s favour when Indumathi Kathiresan noticed that the goalie was off her line. So she swung a left-footer that arced into goal to draw India level in the friendly. It was the second time in the game that India had neutralised a deficit, the first coming fron Dangmei Grace who plays in that country. A stoppage-time goal gave Uzbekistan a 3-2 win in the friendly. Watch the goal here.

They said it

Let's enjoy this because we went a long time without winning it, and we don't know when we'll win it again.

Lionel Messi telling the crowd at Buenos Aires’ Monumental after Argentina beat Panama in a friendly. This was their first game at home since winning the World Cup

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Written by Dhiman Sarkar. Produced by Sukoon Wadhawan.

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