Hunt on for soccer saviour

Talent from all parts of the country will be on display, for Houghton?s benefit.

india Updated: Sep 14, 2006 03:19 IST

It’s that time of the year again when Indian football would appear in good health, as has always been the case when the Santosh Trophy has kicked off over the years — at least that is the general perception.

The difficulties of the national team are relegated to the background during the tournament, as the national championship provides a much-needed escape from reality to the beleaguered followers of Indian football.

But this year’s edition at Delhi’s satellite cities of Faridabad and Gurgaon promises to be a bit different.

While the tournament would provide yet another hope of finding the elusive players who could resuscitate Indian football, it would also be an opportunity for the new Indian coach, Bob Houghton, to assess what lies beneath the “cream of talent” that has been at his disposal since he took the reins.

Since his appointment, Houghton has constantly spoken about the importance of enticing players of Indian origin plying their trade abroad, in order to make India a force to reckon with; it is another matter that Michael Chopra spurned the AIFF offer with contempt, raising a question over the way the player was approached.

However, when the hunt for the “saviours” begins with renewed zeal this Thursday, it would be a chance for the AIFF mandarins to weaken Houghton's resolution of going on a shopping spree abroad.

For nearly a month, 33 teams would battle it out for the domestic supremacy in the Santosh Trophy, giving Houghton a chance to have a close look at the undiscovered, nascent and established talent on display.

The Briton would be present during the matches, and Indian football will hope that he discovers someone or something his predecessors could not.

“I’ll be watching quite a few matches as the tournament provides a rare chance to catch a glimpse of youngsters who normally remain obscure,” Houghton said from Goa.

“Santosh Trophy is a huge tournament and it is my job to look at the players. I will hopefully unearth a few talented players,” Houghton added.

West Bengal, who had made the tournament their own, winning it a record 29 times before a slump in recent years, would play the first match against Rajasthan in Faridabad on Thursday.

Bengal last won the title in 1998-99 and will aim to revive their faded glory in Cluster III, in which Madhya Pradesh are the third team.

Mahindra United keeper Sandip Nandy will lead a severely depleted Bengal side under coach Prasanta Banerjee.

Heavyweights Goa, last year's champions, along with the usual suspects like Kerala, Punjab and Maharashtra will join the tournament from quarterfinal league stage.

In the preliminary stages, Manipur seem to possess the arsenal and the talent that can ruffle more than a few feathers.

Incidentally, the tournament is being held in North India for only the sixth time in its 61st edition, and is a first for Haryana.

The stage is set and big brother is keeping his discerning eye in a hope to unearth new players.

An intriguing spectacle awaits.

First Published: Sep 14, 2006 03:19 IST