A long wait for Santosh Trophy stars

Stan Rayan
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V.V. Farhad... man-of-the-tournament at last year's Santosh Trophy.— File photo
V.V. Farhad... man-of-the-tournament at last year's Santosh Trophy.— File photo

He struck a goal in the final, helped Services lift the Santosh Trophy after more than five decades and was adjudged as the best player in the 66th National Championship in Cuttack last May. Still, it was not good enough for V.V. Farhad to get a berth in an I-League club.

“I don’t know why… nobody called me, there were no offers from any club,” said Farhad from Bangalore on Thursday, where the Services team trains. “Now, to select the Indian team, they just look at the I-League. I don’t think they take the Santosh Trophy seriously.”

Same scenario likely

It hurts. But the fact is many of the country’s top clubs have kept the Santosh Trophy out of their radar, their zone of search.

The scene is likely to be the same in the 67th Santosh Trophy, the country’s top inter-State championship, which kicks off in Varanasi on Friday and then moves to the big stage in Kollam and Kochi.

The Kozhikode-born Farhad, who studied in Farook College and was moulded into a fine player at SAI, played for Kozhikode’s Quartz Club which could not get a berth in the forthcoming second division I-League.

In fact, none of the players from Services got a look-in from any of the I-League clubs, said P.S. Sumesh who was also a member of the triumphant Services team last year.

The same is the case with Tamil Nadu, which finished runner-up after losing the final 2-3 against Services.

Job security

“There’s nobody from our last year’s team in any of the I-League clubs,” said former international Sabir Pasha, Tamil Nadu’s coach at last year’s National, from Chennai. “Most of them had jobs and those who didn’t have jobs, got them after the Santosh Trophy. A few of them had offers from some clubs but they were from a very poor background, so they opted for the security of a job. Also, they were not sure if they would get to play even if they join the big clubs.”

None from Kerala, which produced some of the country’s biggest stars like I.M. Vijayan, Jo Paul Ancheri and Pappachan in the past and which made the National championship semifinal after a long gap, were in action in the country’s premier I-League, which currently is a 14-team affair.

“Nobody from our Santosh Trophy team played in the I-League after the National,” said former star M.M. Jacob, the current Kerala coach, who was in charge of the team last year too. “Anyway, most of the players in our first 11 had jobs and they were not interested in going for I-League teams. And it’s tough for departmental players to go and play outside.

Risk factor

“Also, you need to be very confident about yourself to join big clubs. Players who are confident will take the risk and what you make in a lifetime in your departmental job you can make in two or three seasons. But if they don’t do well and come back, life becomes very tough for them.”

Few years back, coaches and officials from big clubs used to watch the Santosh Trophy with eager eyes, waiting for talented heads to show up. Now, the I-League players are not even allowed to play in the National championship.

Still, the Santosh Trophy can be a nice little step for young players hoping to get into second division I-League teams. An extra hurdle to big time but patience always pays.

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