~ Kunwar Deep Singh
This is probably the testament to the impact of viewer friendly presentation of other well-established leagues in the world , that this is the first article on Santosh Trophy’10 here at TheHardTackle. Many fellow Indian football fanatics, who follow the beautiful game in this part of the world, might be aware of the fact that Santosh Trophy is actually one of the oldest football tournaments in the world. The prestigious tournament had its first edition in 1941, which gradually started to lose its sheen as the premier and biggest Football tournament in the country ever since the inception of our very own National Football League in the year 1996. Santosh Trophy was named after the late Maharaja of Santosh (presently in Bangladesh) Sir Manmatha Nath Roy Chowdhary, for his priceless contribution towards the growth of football in this country, who had also been the President of the Indian Football Association.
Instead of the various professional football clubs scattered all over the Indian perimeter, Indian states compete for the much coveted and prestigious Santosh Trophy. This year’s edition finds itself back at the same place where it all started, the football capital of India, Kolkata. The competition has seen a few changes in the format through the years. According to the format of the Trophy prevalent in the present edition, eight teams are selected through a qualifying round to join the four seeded teams in the quarterfinal league stage. These twelve teams are then divided into four groups, each having three teams. The subsequent group winners complete the semifinal line-up. The state of Bengal has achieved astounding success in the history of Santosh Trophy, annexing the title a whopping 29 times, with states like Punjab and Goa dominating the recent editions.
For quite some time, the Santosh Trophy has been a suspect affair – squeezed and adjusted at the end of the Indian football calendar, often at the expense of an essential recovery period for professional players after a hectic I-League schedule. This often leads to many big players giving the tournament a miss. However this time around, AIFF actually planned things well, with the players enjoying a much-needed break after I-League 2009-10 ended in May. But, the tournament will still miss the national team star players, who are training in Portugal for the Asian Cup to be held early next year in Qatar, where Team India is grouped in the virtual Group of Death. This edition of Santosh Trophy would serve as an excellent platform for the young starlets to showcase their potential and grab a berth in the illustrious I-League clubs – newly promoted teams like HAL, ONGC will keep an close eye to spot exciting talents.
Defending champions Goa, 29-time winners and last year’s runners-up Bengal will be the hardest hit by the exodus of the national team players. While the overall trophy count suggests Bengal, Goa, Punjab and Kerala remain perennial favorites, teams like Karnataka , Services , Maharashtra and states from the Northeast also have the potential to spring a surprise. Chandigarh, stunning everyone by winning the National Junior championship last month defeating formidable Bengal on penalty shoot-out, can also topple some big guns in Kolkata .
It’s going to be a Santosh Trophy without our charismatic captain Bhaichung Bhutia and his peers, but it has always been a stage for new stars to shine. As always, many would rise up to the occasion, but all they need is the whole-hearted support and recognition from football lovers all around the country.