AIFF HAS issued a show-cause notice to Romeo Fernandes and Mandar Rao Dessai, the two footballers who had their names called up for national duty at the SAFF Championship being held in Trivandrum but did not turn up there.
It was a rare act of defiance that national team coach Stephen Constantine called "shameful" and prompted AIFF President Praful Patel to go on a tirade about having "had enough" of clubs witholding players from the national team.
While there are claims that the duo have suffered injuries, one wonders if Praful Patel as well as Stephen Constantine would go to the extent of making such strong statements about the matter if this were the case. There have been speculations that the players have been told not to join the camp by their ISL franchise FC Goa, in retaliation against AIFF not taking action Chennaiyin FC captain Elano Blumer for his assault on FC Goa co-owner Dattaraj Salgaocar. The matter resulted in an FIR being filed against the Brazilian footballer.
Back in October, ISL franchises forced AIFF to cancel a preparatory camp ahead of two crucial World Cup qualifiers away from home. Then in December Bengaluru FC decided not to release their players for national duty till 20th December citing fatigue from ISL. But this is the first instance in recent memory where the players have been withheld from playing for the national team.
The show-cause against the players is the first step of a process that will see AIFF attempt to issue sanctions against their team. But this is where the situation gets a little - nay, a lot - complicated.
While the intention behind show-causing the players may be to ultimately issue sanctions against FC Goa, that is not the team that the duo reported to after the ISL got over. Both Romeo and Mandar are registered with Dempo SC - which is owned by FC Goa co-owner Srinivas Dempo - and were playing for FC Goa on loan. And since the ISL got over and FC Goa was dissolved until next year, the players went back to Dempo SC, which is the club responsible for not letting them join the national team.
What this means is that AIFF will have to issue sanctions against Dempo SC, not FC Goa. The club, which got relegated from the I-League last season, isn't the top priority for its management any more as it is set to shut down when I-League and ISL are merged. Thus, it can be a convenient shield for FC Goa to avoid any consequences.
But that's not where it ends at all. Because the people close to FC Goa are bigwigs in Indian football administration as well. And if AIFF attempts to take action against the franchise the whole matter can escalate into a full-scale clash of powers within the Indian football fraternity.
Meanwhile, two young and promising players may end up facing punishment that can cause them to lose a significant time in the prime of their careers.
In this unfolding game of chess between powerful individuals, clubs and players are being used as pawns, with the schizophrenic, dual-league Indian football landscape providing a bizarre setting that enables and fuels this regretful series of events where no matter what happens, football will come out on the losing side.