More than half of the footballers called for the national camp in Bhubaneswar ahead of the AFC U-23 Championships qualifiers did not turn up and head coach Clifford Miranda on Sunday appealed to the clubs to release their players.
Only 12 of the 28 players have joined the camp, which started on Friday, as the remaining ones are not being released “due to club commitments”. Miranda appealed to the clubs to see the “bigger picture.”
The tournament begins from September 6 in Dalian, China, and the Indian team is to fly out on September 4. India is alongside the UAE, Maldives and China in Group G. Its first match is against the Maldives on September 6, followed by games against host China on September 9 and the UAE on September 12.
“I have just 12 players with me here for training. The remaining players have not been released by their clubs. I am on tenterhooks,” Miranda, a former India player, told PTI from Bhubaneswar.
“Only five clubs have released their players for the camp. The other clubs say they will do so only during the FIFA window (September 4-12). Technically, the clubs could be right but I am appealing to them to see the bigger picture.
“It is about the national team and national pride, of trying to do well in an important international tournament.”
Four players of Mohun Bagan Super Giant, three from FC Goa, two players from Bengaluru FC and one each from Gokulam Kerala, NorthEast United and Hyderabad FC have joined the camp.
East Bengal, Kerala Blasters, Mumbai City FC, Jamshedpur FC, Odisha FC and Punjab FC are yet to release their players.
“I am grateful to these clubs which have released their players and I am hopeful that the other clubs will also do the same soon so that we have at least a few training sessions of all the players together,” he said.
Chennaiyin FC has informed that two of their players will join the camp on Monday while their third player Yumnam Bikash was injured during their Durand Cup match.
Chennaiyin lost to FC Goa in the Durand Cup quarterfinals on Saturday. Mumbai City FC plays Mohun Bagan on Sunday. NorthEast United and East Bengal have already made it to the semifinals. The final is on September 3.
“I am not much concerned about the fitness of the players because their respective clubs must be looking after them in this respect. But this team is a new one and the players have not played together even once.
“How do I know which team combination I will field? Maldives, UAE and China are strong teams. Ideally, we should have had a longer camp but now, we have just seven days left and I am not having all the players with me. We have to wind up on September 3.”
Initially, the camp was planned from August 12 but it was later decided to start from August 25, after reluctance shown by the clubs in releasing their players.
Five players called for the camp — Sivasakthi Narayanan and Rohit Danu (both Bengaluru FC), Amarjit Singh Kiyam (Punjab FC), Narender Gahlot (Odisha FC) and Vikram Pratap Singh (Mumbai City FC) — were also named in the Indian squad for the upcoming Asian Games.
Out of the five, Amarjit, Gahlot and Vikram are yet to turn up for the Under-23 camp.
Interestingly, all the 28 players had come to Delhi a few days back to complete their visa-related paperwork and 16 of them returned to their clubs without joining the camp.
Asked what will happen if none of the remaining players join the camp, Miranda simply said, “I am hoping that the players will be released by their clubs and they will join camp.”
He also said that India will not skip the tournament.
“We will select and take 23 players to China. In no case we are going to miss the tournament,” he said, when asked how he will manage to form a full squad if the players named in the camp do not turn up.