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IFA Shield Poses Dilemma for Defending Champions East Bengal; Bala Devi’s Inspiration vs India’s Reality and More (Football Round-up)

Short Passes (Football News Round-up): East Bengal write to investors, consider playing in IFA Shield as build up to CFL | “Bala Di will inspire future generation,” says Ashalata Devi but AIFF efforts suggest otherwise | 16% increase in injuries in the Premier League this season | Ireland's Alan Browne tests positive for Covid-19 after playing against England | Mohamed Salah tests positive for Covid-19, Egyptian FA confirms.
East Bengal at the IFA Shield

East Bengal, the defending champions, having won the U-19 competition last year, are the most successful club in the long and storied IFA Shield history.

The 123rd edition of the IFA Shield will be played in four venues in Kolkata from December 6 to 20. The 12-team invitational tournament will have four I-League clubs — Sudeva Delhi FC, Mohammedan Sporting Club, Indian Arrows and Gokulam Kerala FC — and sides from Kolkata. One of the eight sides from the host city — defending champions East Bengal — are caught in a fix though. Their participation is in doubt since the Indian Super League (ISL) club would have begun its campaign in Goa by then.

The Shield — one of the oldest football tournaments in the world — was staged as an Under-19 tournament the last three years. This year, however, the Indian Football Association (IFA) — West Bengal’s governing body for the game — decided to get it back as a senior contest. 

East Bengal’s participation in the tournament would have always been in doubt though, regardless of the age group status. After structural changes in the club after new investors Shree Cements came in — specifically to facilitate entry into the ISL — there is not clarity on whether the club would be keen to take part in its traditional engagements, tournaments such as the IFA Shield and the Calcutta Football League (CFL). 

Also Read | Musical Chairs and Football: The Trend of Changing Ownership in the ISL

The board members of the club, as per reports, have written to the new owners, to consider forming a team of reserves for the IFA Shield as well as other tournaments. That request is pending approval from the corporate offices, and so IFA has kept Real Kashmir and Punjab FC on standby in case the Kolkata giants, the most successful club in the tournament’s long history, fail to make it.

While at the onset, the idea of East Bengal trying its best to take part in the tournament despite the clash of dates with the ISL, seems noble, the fact that someone had to write to the owners of a football club about maintaining a B team or a junior programme is disturbing. 

Among the many things touted by the ISL is the notion that the clubs would be deeply invested in grassroots programmes and developmental initiatives in the city they belong to. Maintaining a reserve team is obviously part of a developmental programme. 

East Bengal, it is evident from their request, haven’t yet accounted for one. 

ATK-Mohun Bagan have a junior set-up but the new owners of the club have not displayed any interest to tap into it and play the IFA Shield too. One is not sure whether they are interested at all in nurturing Bagan’s grassroots programme either. Most teams shut shop after four months of action — keep their social media teams running — and then reconvene a couple of months before the next season. Grassroots, junior and reserve team programmes etc remain on paper, as part of an idealistic narrative which remains what it truly is — ideal case scenarios that never take place.

The four I-League clubs are keen to use this tournament as a warm up for the season which is likely to begin in early January. The IFA has not set up a biosecure bubble for the tournament. The teams would be picking hotels and managing stay on their own, following the protocols set by the IFA.

Bala Devi’s Inspiration vs Indian Football’s Reality

Indian women’s football team captain Ashalata Devi says that she would have loved to play abroad like Bala Devi.  The 27-year-old central defender feels Bala signing with Scottish giants Rangers FC will be an inspiration for the next generation of players, who would believe they could do the same, and then strive harder to reach that goal.

Earlier this year, Bala became the first woman player from the country to sign a professional contract with a European club after signing with the Scottish Women’s Premier League side.

“Bala di playing for Rangers is a very big opportunity as it shows us the way to play abroad and for the next generation too,” Ashalata said on AIFF TV. 

“I hope the young generation gets inspired by her and Aditi (Chauhan), and think that they can also earn opportunities with foreign clubs like her,” she added.

“Everyone has a dream to play for a top club and so, everyone will work hard and give their full dedication to the game. The effect will be huge on the youngsters in the near future,” she said.

Ashalata, who was nominated for the AFC Women’s Player of the Year award in 2019, says she is focused on preparing for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in India in 2022.

“If I get the opportunity to play overseas, then I will surely go and play but my focus is now on the AFC Asian Cup,” she added. 

Ashalata’s words are hugely encouraging and laudable, and yet much needs to be done to ensure Bala’s massive leap forward isn’t wasted away. An inspired generation will quickly become a lost generation if the system fails them. A deeper introspection of Indian football would show that when it comes to the women’s game, the system can possibly never fail anyone, because there is no system in place to start with. 

India, hosts of the 2021 FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup, began preparing the home team a year or so before the original dates of the global tournament, in November this year. Till then, neither the All India Football Federation (AIFF), nor the players or the management, knew when and how the players would be selected, before possibly training them to put up some semblance of a fight when the best age-group teams in the world come to town. 

Even in the post pandemic resumption, women’s football has been left out of the loop, with the federation concentrating almost all its efforts on its flagship venture and on restarting other men’s football tournaments across the country. Women football’s pariah status continues. Bala’s achievement is in danger of remaining an aberration. 

16% Increase in Injuries in Premier League

Premier Injuries, a database of injuries in the top flight of English football, have found that there have been 103 muscle injuries in total over the first eight match days this season — a 16% increase compared to the same period last year.

According to former Arsenal and England physio Gary Lewin this has been because of the lack of a normal pre season and packed fixtures — something managers have voiced concerns over.

Lewin told BBC Radio 5 Live: "If you're not fully recovered from your previous game then fatigue will set in and muscle injuries will go up, because if you have tired muscles and you load them again, they are going to break."

Also Read | AFC Fixes Window for India’s Postponed World Cup and Asian Cup Qualifiers

There were seven weeks between the end of the 2019-20 Premier League season and start of the new campaign, compared to 12 as originally planned, because of the coronavirus pandemic. Clubs involved in European competition had fixtures during that time, while there were also international matches too.

There will be no winter break this year and the campaign will be five weeks shorter than a standard season because of the late end to 2019-20 season, and the rescheduled European Championships, starting on June 11. It means there are more midweek fixtures this year and weekend games are spread across Friday to Monday because of broadcast selections.

While several top flight managers have complained about this and asked the Premier League to reconsider the five substitution rule, data also shows that very few have actually made use of the three substitutions available to them every game. Only six sides — Arsenal, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, West Brom and Wolves — have used all three of their available substitutes in every Premier League game they have played so far this season.

Browne Covid-19 Positive After Game vs England

Republic of Ireland midfielder Alan Browne tested positive for Covid-19 following Thursday night’s 3-0 defeat by England at Wembley.

Browne played the full 90 minutes and has now been isolated from the rest of the group before Sunday’s Nations League fixture against Wales in Cardiff. A Football Association of Ireland statement said: “The Football Association of Ireland can confirm Ireland midfielder Alan Browne has tested positive for Covid-19.

“The player has been isolated from the group as per protocols. UEFA have been informed of this development. There are no close contacts of the player and the rest of the staff and squad tested negative ahead of Sunday’s Nations League fixture against Wales in Cardiff.”

Also Read | Lakshya Sen Flouted Covid-19 Protocol: Ajay Jayaram Opens Up About Tournament Exit and Quarantine in Germany

Browne is the second Ireland player to give a positive result this week, with West Bromwich Albion striker Callum Robinson missing the England game for the same reason.

Brighton & Hove Albion’s Aaron Connolly and Norwich City’s Adam Idah had to sit out last month’s Euro 2020 play-off semifinal in Slovakia as they were close contacts of a member of staff who later tested positive on the flight to Bratislava. Four more players were withdrawn on the squad’s return to Dublin.

At the time of writing, England’s Nations League fixtures against Belgium and Iceland were not affected.

Salah Tests Positive for Covid-19

In a situation that was unfortunate, turned into a joke and has now become farce, Liverpool have lost another valuable player in quick succession with Mohamed Salah testing positive for Covid-19. The Egyptian FA made the announcement on Twitter. Salah had returned a positive test, although he is not showing any symptoms.

The governing body also added that the rest of the Egypt team were negative for the virus and Salah is now self-isolating and will be "subject to more checks in the coming hours". Egypt host Togo on Saturday in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier before playing the reverse fixture on Tuesday.

Also Read | ATK Mohun Bagan Fan Uprising: A Battle Won Online, the Plot Lost at the Maidan

Salah would miss Liverpool’s next fixture against Leicester on November 21, under current UK Government guidelines despite being asymptomatic. It would also make him a doubt for the home Champions League tie against Atalanta on November 25 given he is unable to train with his club teammates.

Guidelines according to the UK government’s website states that "If you do not have symptoms but have tested positive for Covid-19, stay at home and self-isolate for 10 days from the day the test was taken."

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