'You can't have clubs decimated after huge investment from owners': Chennaiyin FC coach Owen Coyle on player release
Several ISL clubs have hesitated to release their players for a lengthy national camp.
The Indian men's football team kicked off the year on a high note, securing victory in the Tri-Nations Championship in March. They continued their winning streak by clinching both the Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF Championship in July. The key to the team's success could be attributed to the extended national training camps, which allowed the players to acclimate and perform at their peak on the field.
However, approximately two months later, the team encountered a major setback. Several Indian Super League (ISL) clubs hesitated to release their players for the lengthy national camp. The consequences were evident as the team suffered a devastating 1-5 defeat against the host nation, China, during a group stage match at the Asian Games on Tuesday. Despite numerous appeals by Igor Stimac, the head coach of the national team, he was compelled to travel with a squad that could only be finalized on Friday. The team arrived in China late on Sunday night, with some players still awaiting their visas, further exacerbating India's challenges.
Lacking the opportunity for pre-match practice and grappling with jet lag, the team managed to hold their own against a formidable Chinese side during the first 45 minutes. But most of their energy was depleted by then, allowing China to dominate in the second half. While China continuously rotated fresh players, the Indian management had to make do with limited options. Consequently, Indian players faced an increased risk of sustaining injuries, with several of them going down, especially after the one-hour mark. "We are in big problem with three players (Sumit Rathi, Lalchungnunga and Bryce Miranda) down with cramps and there could be a big risk of injury if they play on Thursday," Stimac had told Hindustan Times.
At the one-hour mark, Bryce Miranda was replaced by Vincy Barretto, while Rahim Ali completed the full 90 minutes on the field. Both of these players are part of Chennaiyin FC, who are set to commence the upcoming ISL season with a match against Odisha FC this Saturday. Owen Coyle, the coach of Chennaiyin FC, expressed in an interview that he would have preferred to have both players available for the season opener. Having said that, he is content with the idea of exploring alternative options until they return to India.
"I mean Igor, he's a good friend, we spoke a few weeks ago and he explained the situation and I said listen I've no problem. Rahim (Ali) and Vincy (Barretto) I'll make them available. I would love to have them for Odisha, but I know how important it is for a player to represent the country, that's a huge honor. Your club pays your salary and everything else, but it's a huge honor to represent your country. So it's difficult because the league is just starting and every head coach wants the best team available. So I can understand both positions, but I feel for Rahim and Vincy it was important to represent the national team as much as we would love to have them available," Coyle told HindustanTimes.com.
"But I get reluctance from clubs, because it is difficult, particularly, when it's not a FIFA window but equally to play for your national team is the biggest honour you can get. So I didn't want to stop the lads from doing that. So we just have to find a solution. It's like picking up a couple of injuries, you have to find a solution to, and that's what we need to do."
The Asian Games is not the sole international event India will participate in during the 2023-24 ISL season though. They are also slated to compete in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers and the highly-anticipated AFC Asian Cup, scheduled for January. In this prestigious tournament, the Blue Tigers will face off against World Cup regulars Australia, as well as other higher-ranked nations like Uzbekistan and Syria, all grouped together with India.
Considering the fierce competition, there have been appeals from Stimac for an extended preparation camp lasting a minimum of four weeks. While Stimac's request is understandable, Coyle believes that it might be challenging to release players for such an extended period. He expressed this sentiment before providing a detailed explanation for his standpoint.
"That obviously is a difficult one because those huge competition take place all over the world. The owners of the ISL clubs invest huge finance so they obviously want the best players available. So I think to be fair the league found a compromise. I think the last games will be 29 December and then the players can look to to join with the national team in terms of the preparation. So in respect to that, I think that's fair because you can't have clubs decimated after huge investment from owners because this is season 10 now. And the owners of all the respective clubs they've invested millions and millions of dollars season after season," mentioned Coyle.
"So I think there's going to be that balance, hopefully we'll find that. And obviously there's a break in January. So the league have helped as well, because no league really wants to be 'Stop Start Stop Start!' And I think this calendar year there's so many international events because in October-November there are FIFA World Cup qualifiers when the league stops as well. So you want continuity and particularly for the ISL, which is growing every year. So I think they will find a balance for that.
"We certainly understand Igor wants as much time as possible, I get that. But that's from a self-interest point of view. You've got to understand head coaches need the best players available because I'll guarantee that somebody loses a number of games and people are crying for them to lose their jobs. So you've got to give them a balance to it. You've got to be fair and everything you do," said Coyle, who boasts of a rich CV, which include winning the Premier League Manager of the Month Award three times in the past.
Viewing it from the players' perspective, especially the senior players, India's captain, Sunil Chhetri, and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu have expressed their support for the coach's request for extended training camps. In fact, during a media address last week, Chhetri pondered, "If, after all the negotiations, the coach requests the inclusion of two players from each team, is it truly that challenging to release these players?"
Apuia Ralte, the star midfielder for both India and Mumbai City FC, too had expressed in an interview with HT his hope that both parties can reach a mutual agreement.