Claiming that India played its best football of the 2013 SAFF championship in the semifinal and final, former India captain Baichung Bhutia believed that India paid the price for poor finishing in its 2-0 defeat to Afghanistan on Wednesday.

“We struggled a bit in the group matches. In the final, Afghanistan converted the couple of chances it got. In the 2011 final, when we beat the Afghans 4-0, we only had four chances but we took all of them,” said the forward, speaking on the sidelines of the 126th Durand Cup. Bhutia-owned United Sikkim FC is participating in the event.

However, the 36-year-old admitted that Wim Koevermans’ side would have benefitted from longer training camps.

Longer camps

“We used to be involved in camps that went on for three weeks when Bob Houghton was the manager. Wim only got three days for the friendly against Palestine, four for the match against Singapore and a week for the SAFF championship. The clubs need to release players for a longer duration,” said Bhutia.

“We are not England, Germany or Spain. Our priority should always be the national team. The clubs and players need to be prepared to make sacrifices for the Indian team,” asserted Bhutia.

The former international added that the advent of the IMG-R franchise league will benefit Indian football.

“The tournament will improve the quality of football in the country. Look at the impact of the Indian Premier League (cricket) and the Indian Badminton League. If the IMG league becomes popular, it will help the I-League too. The competition will not take us to the World Cup but we need to experiment,” said Bhutia.

In the forthcoming domestic season, Bhutia hopes United Sikkim will be able to regain its place in the I-League first division.

However, lack of financial assistance may hamper his team’s promotion bid.

Corporate support

“Clubs don’t have the required financial backing. Corporate houses need to support Indian football. Even the current I-League champion Churchill Brothers does not have a title sponsor,” lamented Bhutia.

However, if his team gets promoted, Bhutia is confident that United Sikkim will be able to acquire the newly-introduced AFC Club Licence.

“Seven AFC delegates recently inspected our club and gave a wonderful report. We play inside a compact stadium which can house 15,000 people. Our academy was highly praised too,” beamed the footballer from Sikkim.

Bhutia is also looking forward to heading his first AIFF technical committee meeting soon. The ex-captain was appointed its chairman in March but the members have not convened yet.

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