The oldest football tournament in Asia, the Durand Cup, will be back in August 2019 for its 129th edition, with a 16-team tournament being held in West Bengal.
A total of five ISL clubs, six I-League clubs, one I-League second division club, and four teams from the Armed Forces will take part in the tournament, with an enticing opener scheduled between the Kolkata clubs Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting at the Vivekananda Yubabharati Krirangan at Salt Lake in Kolkata.
But, in the midst of the anticipation for the tournament and the Durand Cup fixtures, is there a case to be made for the tournament losing its sheen? Of course, given the fact that it is back after a hiatus, you could argue the break itself is an indication of the diminishing importance of the Durand Cup, but the further issue is the fact that the five I-League clubs will not be sending their first team squads to the tournament.
Bengaluru FC, Chennaiyin FC, ATK, Jamshedpur FC and FC Goa have all confirmed that their developmental squads – the reserves or the ‘B’ team will be taking part in the Durand Cup, which has not been received well by all parties, with some even claiming that the ISL clubs are disrespecting the country’s oldest football tournament.
With India having played five games in the last two months, and two gruelling camps fit in the schedule there, it is understandable that the likes of Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu have been given a rest, while also taking into account the fact that ISL clubs have foreigners’ contracts beginning from the start of the ISL season, and not before.
It is also seen as a pathway for the youngsters breaking out of the clubs’ grassroots programmes to gain some much-needed experience at a big event – and a prestigious tourney like the Durand Cup is the perfect opportunity for that to happen.
Bengaluru, for example, had their reserves go unbeaten in the I-League second division group, they won the BDFA Super Division title and the Puttaiah Memorial Trophy in the local tournaments as well. FC Goa, too, won a host of trophies in the local leagues in the state. So naturally, the next step towards their development as players would be to pit their wits against some of the biggest clubs in the country in the Durand Cup.
So, while some might say it is justified to call the clubs out for not sending their first team squads to the Durand Cup, it is completely understandable, when you look at it from their own perspectives. With the ISL season not far, this could act like a pre-season tournament where the first-team coaches could pick out which of their youngsters are ready to make it to the big league.