Bhaichung Bhutia has been invited to the technical committee he once headed but the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has removed East Bengal and India legend Manoranjan Bhattacharya and included Santosh Singh who has no international experience as player or coach.
Apart from stating that he is from Bihar, AIFF officials HT reached out to on Tuesday initially could not provide details on Singh. But a letter dated January 31 signed by federation’s acting secretary general M Satyanarayan has been sent to Singh asking him if he would accept being part of the committee till 2026. HT has seen the letter.
Singh has represented Bihar in the Santosh Trophy and has been their assistant-coach in the men’s inter-state competition, according to AIFF executive committee member Syed Imtiaz Hussain. He also coaches an institutional team, said Hussain who is from Bihar.
Responsible for the recommendation and evaluation of India coaches and the performance of national teams, the technical committee over the past 10 years has usually comprised former internationals and experienced administrators. Bhutia headed the committee from 2013 to 2017 and was replaced by Asian Games bronze medallist and famous Kolkata Maidan striker Shyam Thapa who helmed the committee from 2017 to 2022 after which it has been headed by IM Vijayan.
Usually appointed for four-year terms, this committee has been revamped after less than two at the executive committee meeting on January 30. AIFF has not publicly stated why.
The committee continues to be chaired by Vijayan but instead of Bhattacharya, Shabbir Ali has been named as vice-chairman. Barring Vijayan, Climax Lawrence has been retained from the previous committee which last met on January 25 and appointed Langam Chaoba Devi as coach of the senior national women’s team.
Bhutia, Ali, Singh, Thongam Tababi Devi and Victor Amalraj are the new members. All of them apart from Singh are internationals with Bhutia at 107 games, as per AIFF records, for India being the most capped retired player.
“No one from AIFF told me that I was not needed anymore,” said Bhattacharya, a former central defender who has played 46 times for India and whose club career stretched from 1977 to 1993 almost all of it at East Bengal. As East Bengal coach, he won the National Football League and Federation Cup.
“I was not interested to be part of any committee and had told AIFF as much. It was only on Kalyan Chaubey’s request, largely because he played under me, that I agreed to join. It is best you ask him why I am not there anymore,” he said.
An appointment as surprising as Singh’s is the promotion of Md Arif Ali as vice-chairman of the federation’s league committee. Arif is from Uttarakhand from where only two clubs, Corbett FC and KR Football Leaders Club, registered players for 2023-24.
Replying to an RTI application by sports activist Raju Gusain last December, AIFF showed that from 2016 to 2019, none of the 18 clubs in the state registered a footballer. In 2023, as per AIFF records obtained through the RTI, Uttarakhand had 338 registered players across age-groups men and women, said Gusain. Barring three players with Bagnath Football Club and Academy and the state teams, all of them were with Corbett FC and KR Football Leaders Club.
“There has been no state league and the district football associations are largely inactive. The state selects players only through trials,” said Gusain.
Asked about the appointments, an AIFF official said they were made after, “a few permutations and combinations.” Arif is in the AIFF executive committee and it would have been odd to have him just as a member in the league committee, said the official who did not wish to be named because he is not authorised to talk to the media on this.