The end of the 49th King’s Cup was also the beginning of confusion over whether players would stay in Thailand and prepare for Asian Games or return to their clubs to train for the Indian Super League (ISL), another season of which is scheduled to start on September 21 with Kerala Blasters hosting Bengaluru FC.
Football in the Asian Games begins on September 19. India play hosts China on the opening day. Also in the group are Bangladesh and Myanmar. Two teams from each of the six groups and four best-third placed teams will qualify for the round of 16.
Till late on Sunday, some players in the King’s Cup squad were not provided return tickets by the federation, officials at ISL clubs said. The letter from All India Football Federation (AIFF) asking clubs to release players for the King’s Cup states they “will return on September 11.” HT has a copy of the letter dated August 17 and addressed to the “CEO/Sporting Director” at clubs .
Two ISL clubs are planning to fly their players back if AIFF does not send the tickets by the end of the FIFA window on September 12. An official at an ISL club said a players’ shoot has been scheduled this week keeping in mind that its national team players would be released after the King’s Cup as promised by AIFF.
As players wait in Thailand and head coach Igor Stimac stays in the dark about who he will have in the squad of 22 that is scheduled to check into the Asian Games Village on September 16, clubs are being approached by federation officials and ISL organisers to release players.
“Even as they stay committed to starting the league during the Games, they are calling us to release players in national interest,” said a club official. The official requested anonymity given the sensitive nature of the issue.
Last week, AIFF asked each club to release two players. But given that they will be playing ISL, clubs are not keen on doing that either. “We were asked to release two first team players and we have said we can’t. If we have to, we will send players who are not part of the first team,” said the club official quoted above. An AIFF official said a solution could be found in the next few days.