Asian Cup debacle AIFF’s fault, not players or coaches: Bhutia | Football News - Hindustan Times

Asian Cup debacle AIFF’s fault, not players or coaches: Bhaichung Bhutia

By, Kolkata
Jan 30, 2024 09:29 PM IST

India only team in Doha without GPS equipment, head coach Stimac has written in report to federation.

Bhaichung Bhutia blamed All India Football Federation (AIFF) for India’s poor show in the Asian Cup and said it was scapegoating Shaji Prabhakaran by removing him as secretary-general. Speaking after attending the executive committee meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday, the former India captain again said AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey and treasurer Kipa Ajay should either resign or be removed as along with Prabhakaran they were responsible for all major decisions.

Bhaichung Bhutia blamed All India Football Federation (AIFF) for India’s poor show in the Asian Cup(PTI)
Bhaichung Bhutia blamed All India Football Federation (AIFF) for India’s poor show in the Asian Cup(PTI)

“The Asian Cup and Asian Games were the two most important tournaments for us and AIFF really messed it up,” Bhutia, an AIFF executive committee member by virtue of being the most capped former international, told HT over the phone from New Delhi. “The team went without preparation to the Asian Games. There was no coordination with clubs ahead of that competition and Shaji was then the secretary-general. Without proper preparation again, a team was sent to Asian Cup from where we returned without scoring a goal.

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“It is not the fault of the players or the coaches. Poor planning is the fault of the AIFF management. They could not give the squad time to prepare.”

India returned from 2024 Asian Cup losing all three group league games and conceding six goals. An AIFF executive committee member said in his report on Asian Cup, India head coach Igor Stimac has said barring Australia, Japan and South Korea, many of whose players are based in Europe, the average preparation time for teams at Asian Cup was 27 days. India had 13, Stimac has pointed out. “Overall, it was a disappointing tournament for us all but not unexpected,” the member quoted Stimac as saying.

India were also the only team among 24 at Asian Cup without GPS equipment, Stimac has said, according to the AIFF official. That impedes injury prevention and, “affects the players when they see basic training equipment is missing...,” Stimac has said, according to the official. The official did not want to be named.

Speaking separately, an AIFF official said GPS vests and other equipment were misplaced by airlines after the 2023 Asian Games. “Some four airlines were involved and we have written many letters to them but to no avail. We have lost equipment worth nearly 45 lakh. We have ordered new GPS vests,” the official said. The official too did not want to be named.

India’s last game in Asian Games was on September 28. The Asian Cup squad assembled in Doha on December 29.

The Asian Cup, Bhutia said, was not listed for discussion on Tuesday. But Prabhakaran’s dismissal was. Prabhakaran joined the meeting virtually and asked AIFF executive committee why he was removed, Bhutia said. “Shaji kept asking but AIFF did not respond, saying the matter was in court. I also said that as an executive committee member, I do not know the reason for Prabhakaran’s dismissal.”

Last November, AIFF sacked Prabhakaran saying there has been a “breach of trust.”

Shaji scapegoat: Bhutia

“The breach of trust is not by Shaji alone, so don’t try to make him a scapegoat,” Bhutia said. “From the time, the new committee was formed (September 2022 when Chaubey beat Bhutia 33-1 in the AIFF election), three people have taken most decisions. So, if AIFF has to sack Shaji, it should also sack the president and treasurer.”

Prabhakaran had won a stay on his dismissal from Delhi Hight Court in December 2023. In its order on January 19, the court said only the executive committee can remove the secretary-general. AIFF had told the court that Prabhakaran had been removed by its emergency committee. So, on Tuesday, the sacking had to be ratified. Bhutia was the only member who did not sign, according to an AIFF official.

Bhutia also said he has suggested that executive committee meetings and the annual general meeting be shown live on AIFF’s social media platforms. “If parliament sessions can be shown live, if Supreme Court proceedings can be viewed in real time, why not these? What is there to hide?”

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    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata and has been a sport journalist for over three decades. He writes mainly on football.

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