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Houghton set to leave, will his legacy live?

After a bit of grandstanding from both, the All India Football Federation and Bob Houghton are likely to part amicably, possibly in a week. Dhiman Sarkar reports.

sports Updated: Apr 22, 2011 23:29 IST
Dhiman Sarkar

After a bit of grandstanding from both, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Bob Houghton are likely to part amicably, possibly in a week. Houghton will get a substantially reduced severance pay from what was agreed on a contract that runs till 2013 but will leave India an honourable man, the charge of making a racist remark dropped.

Apart from two Nehru Cup titles, an AFC Challenge Cup that came with the chance to fulfil an Asian Cup dream a generation of players thought was impossible and a berth in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup finals, what Houghton leaves behind is a squad sad to see him go and not afraid to say it.

At different times over the past four months, India regulars Subrata Pal, Gouramangi Singh, Sunil Chhetri and Bhaichung Bhutia have publicly backed the coach. The players and India's support staff even sent a signed letter to the AIFF president saying the Englishman wasn't racist, knowing full well that it wouldn't endear them to the federation. And while scattered all over India playing for their clubs, they didn't forget to send Houghton thank you notes.

All of this is unprecedented in Indian football and rare in a country where sports officials frown on players speaking their minds.

Look no further than the India cricketers' attempt to form a players' association. It is no coincidence that the AIFF is planning to ramp up its code of conduct after Chhetri tweeted support for Houghton this week.

Never before have players backed the coach in the way Houghton's bunch has. They did that because while Houghton was the AIFF officials' bete noire - he was said to be corrosive, repeatedly highlighted India's lack of infrastructure and running down its traditional tournament structure - he was their coach per excellence and father figure, someone who didn't shirk from taking on a Union minister who criticised his boys.

They did that because Houghton didn't care how long players wore their hair so long as they gave their all in training and in the game. (Bhutia once said if you didn't prepare for Houghton's training, you would throw up in no time into the first session.)

They did that because Houghton got the AIFF to ensure top-notch training facilities and because in the run-up to the Asian Cup finals, got it to arrange an unprecedented eight friendlies including ones against Bryan Robson's Thailand, Yemen, Vietnam, Kuwait and the UAE. They did that because Houghton ensured that when they stayed and trained together, they were paid better than what clubs paid them.

If the AIFF continues to nurture the senior national team thus, Houghton's legacy will live on after he leaves.

As it will if India make it to the 2015 Asian Cup finals (just getting there is a big deal for a footballing nobody like India) because it was under him that the first step was taken.

And if player power does not die a premature death.