Goodbye 2020: a difficult year for men’s football in India

There have been some remarkable and forgettable events that took place in 2020 …

From disappointment over the cancellation of several leagues to the possibility of getting the Premier League back on track, 2020 has been a difficult year for men’s football in India.

Fortunately for the 2019-2020 Indian Super League (ISL) season, the final took place a week before the country was locked out due to the coronavirus pandemic and ATK pocketed its third trophy at Chennaiyin’s expense. But football as a whole has been affected due to the unforeseen situation in the country.

Although the ISL ended in March, there was still the issue of the I-League which was ultimately cut short after 16 games. Mohun Bagan, who had an unassailable lead in the standings, was announced as the champion.

This was sad news for young footballers as the Indian Football Association (AIFF) was forced to cancel all tournaments by age category as it was not deemed safe to host them while India was fighting Covid-19.

However, it was not all darkness for Indian men’s football as months later the players returned to action with the I-League qualifiers which ended up being the first sporting action in the country. since the outbreak of the pandemic. With strict security protocols and bio-secure bubbles in place, the Indian FA held the qualifiers in place of the I-League Second Division at a centralized location in Kolkata.

Less than two months later, the 2020-21 Indian Super League season kicked off in Goa, once again with teams complying with COVID-19 guidelines set by league authorities in accordance with India’s Ministry of Health. The biggest losers, however, have been the supporters as they have had to stay home and consume football digitally as matches go behind closed doors due to the circumstances.

It wasn’t just on the pitch where emotions were mixed. Apart from that, Indian soccer has bid farewell to gaming legends PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami and Nikhil Nundy among others. The 2020 AFC Cup had to be canceled and the AFC U-16 Championship had to be postponed until 2021, keeping the safety of stakeholders in mind.

Indian football, on the other hand, witnessed a historic deal when the Calcutta giants and I-League champions Mohun Bagan and ISL ATK champions close a merger. The result was a new entity named ATK Mohun Bagan which mainly retained the colors and essence of sailors and ATK players.

Arguably the biggest “event” of the year came a few months later when East Bengal announced its entry into the ISL. The league’s profile was immediately boosted and the ISL’s inaugural Kolkata Derby was held behind closed doors in Goa in November. The Red and Golds have appointed former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler as their head coach.

For most of the year, the Indian national team has been ranked 108th in the FIFA rankings, but they will sign the 104th best team in the world. Igor Stimac’s men were due to host Qatar and Afghanistan in the group stages of the AFC Asian Cup and the FIFA qualifiers in March. However, amid the coronavirus pandemic, meetings initially postponed to October are now expected to take place in March and June 2021.

There have been some remarkable events in Indian football this year. There were also a few forgettable ones. But the promises of 2021 will surely make up for the disappointments of 2020.

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