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International players of I-League get stuck at home away from home amid coronavirus lockdown

CHENNAI: These are not the best times for a bunch of footballers who came to these shores to play the beautiful game. With most of the world going into a shutdown following the outbreak of COVID-19, many players and managers who are part of various I-League outfits are stuck in India, away from their friends and families during a difficult time.

Players from the Indian Super League teams narrowly dodged the bullet as most of the tournament had been done with by the time the coronavirus started spreading in India. Indeed, only the final of that tournament was affected – the Chennaiyin-ATK match was held behind closed doors in Fatorda in Goa -and the players and managers of these teams were out of the country within a couple of days of the match.

The story with the I-League is different, though. Technically, the league remains suspended and not cancelled, so many of the players and coaches have had to stay back, for the fear that once they get out of the co­u­ntry, they may not be able to get back in time when the le­a­g­ue restarts. Now, they are stuck at wherever they’re staying for the next three weeks, unable to venture out or even train.

One of those is Chennai City FC’s Singaporean coach Akbar Nawas. It’s not the easiest of times for him, having to be away from his wife and family in Singapore. However, the 44-year-old is using the time to have a comprehensive review of his team’s season and figure out how his team can improve.

“I am doing a lot of reading and planning for when the league restarts,” said Nawas. “I am looking back at how the season has gone and figuring out how I can improve individual players. This is an opportunity to look at each player, what he is lacking, how he can improve.”

While Nawas has not been able to meet his players, he keeps in touch with them and tries to make sure they take care of their fitness while in isolation. “I think they are okay. It helps that they are used to being in India because they have been here for a while. Sometimes we talk to them, ask how they’re doing and all that. They’re doing their own conditioning at home. Because, even though you’re home, there are so many exercises that you can do,” he said.

Another among those forced to stay back is Gokulam Kerala’s captain Marcus Joseph. “This is an unforeseen situation and I think, like any other difficult situation, we will pass it,” the Trinidadian said.

“Without football, it is boring here but everyone is undergoing the same situation. Luckily my family is safe and I am calling them daily. Also, we all have already become a family here and we enjoy our time together at the clubhouse,” he added.

The future of the league is still up in the air with officials looking at how the coronavirus outbreak in the country pans out before committing to a decision. Club owners might be worried about the possibility of the league extending beyond June because that means an extension to most of the player contracts.

However, at least some privately believe this won’t be the case and that the AIFF would rather cancel the rest of the season instead of extending it beyond the summer. “It’s too early to say anything. That we already have a champion is one less problem for us, but we need to take a call regarding relegation and other prize money,” said I-League CEO Sunando Dhar.

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