Several Indian Super League (ISL) clubs, including Mumbai City FC, East Bengal, and Kerala Blasters, have expressed their reluctance to release their players for the national camp for the U-23 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, held in China from September 6 to 12. The clubs have written to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), requesting them to reconsider the plea to release players, citing their involvement in the ongoing Durand Cup and the upcoming AFC Cup matches.
The U-23 AFC Asian Cup is a continental tournament for under-23 players that also serves as a qualifying event for the 2024 Olympics. India is in Group C with the Maldives, UAE, and China. The national camp for the tournament will start in Bhubaneswar on August 12 under coach Clifford Miranda.
However, according to some reports, some ISL clubs aren’t willing to let go of their players outside the FIFA international window (September 4-12), as they fear losing their players for crucial domestic and continental matches. East Bengal only have goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Gill on the shortlist. But Mumbai City FC have forwards Vikram Pratap Singh, Gurkirat Singh, Ayush Chhikara and defenders Sanjeev Stalin and Halen Nongtdu.
The clubs have argued that releasing players for the national camp would mean weakening their squads and compromising their performance in the Durand Cup and AFC Cup. The Durand Cup is India's oldest and most prestigious football tournament, held from July 20 to August 20.
“We have not received any letter from ISL clubs regarding the Asian Games. Some clubs have written to us regarding the release of players for the U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers,” Shaji Prabhakaran, the Secretary General of AIFF, told Sportstar. He continued, “We understand their compulsions, but important is to come together and look at the larger picture to elevate our football through our collective effort and take this as ‘Project Indian Football.”
The AIFF has also suggested that it may defer the start of the national camp to ensure that Gill does not miss the Kolkata derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan on August 12. In another development, India head coach Igor Stimac will speak to all ISL head coaches on August 8.