The Super Cup, a knockout tournament introduced by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) last season, has run into many a roadblock in a very short period of its existence. It was intended to take the place of the erstwhile Federation Cup and should have been an exciting competition, given the fact that it pitted Indian Super League (ISL) clubs against I-League teams.
The timing of the knockout tournament was a point of concern last season with the tournament scheduled well after the regular season ended. Most of the star names, including overseas players, opted to skip the Super Cup rather than participating in a tournament which had no proper standing when it came to importance in the footballing calendar.
A lack of incentive for the clubs in terms of continental spots or even prize money has also been raised by the teams. The clubs stand to gain nothing from a financial point of view from the Super Cup even if they manage to reach the semi-finals or the finals. Even the winner gets only a modest fee.
In fact, coaches like John Gregory and Steve Coppell had vocally questioned the reasoning behind conducting the Super Cup. Most of the ISL clubs, as a result, fielded under-strength sides, thereby taking away the sheen of the Super Cup in the first edition. Several of the ISL clubs were even quietly relieved to be knocked out by I-League clubs so that they could end the season.
If the haphazard nature in which the Super Cup was organised last season could be attributed to teething troubles, this season has shown nothing has changed.
First of all, the organisers took so long to come up with a schedule that by the time they proceeded to book the stadium, Minerva Punjab had already done so for their AFC Cup matches. In fact, IMG-Reliance and AIFF had to literally beg Minerva Punjab to release the stadium for the Super Cup by agreeing to play their first AFC Cup game away from home!
Following a lack of clarity on the impending merger between I-League and ISL, all I-League clubs barring Real Kashmir FC and Indian Arrows decided to pull out of the qualifiers for the Super Cup before it started on Friday.
The fact that the organisers of the Super Cup do not have a participation agreement with the clubs for the same means that no major disciplinary action can be taken against them. This is because the teams pulled out before the start of the tournament and not during the same.
The first match of this year was as farcical as it got. Minerva Punjab failed to show up and FC Pune City were warming up by their own before the match was called off.
The Super Cup has now become a tournament between 10 ISL clubs and a new entrant to the I-League along with the developmental side of the AIFF, Indian Arrows. Out of the four qualifiers and the eight Round of 16 matches, only one qualifier (which Kerala Blasters lost 0-2 to Indian Arrows) and three Round of 16 matches will actually take place.
So where does that leave Star Sports which agreed to broadcast the tournament and invested time and resources to do the same? There were complaints that there was no proper TV coverage for football earlier. Now that there is someone to do it, where is the football?
Also, what of Hero, the title sponsors? Why would a premium brand want to be associated with a tournament in which there are no matches? From 'Hero Super Cup' to a 'Hero Super Flop'.
And what is the message being sent to the Sports & Youth Services Department of the Government of Odisha who have so graciously been offering their infrastructure for the betterment of football?
Chennaiyin FC, after playing their AFC Cup qualifier in Ahmedabad, had travelled to Bhubaneshwar to take on Aizawl FC. But with the prospect of the former I-League champions giving them a walkover looming large, the team has wasted money, resources and time. The same with other ISL clubs who travelled down, only to get a walkover.
Delhi Dynamos too have been left in the lurch as they travelled all the way to just to dress up in their kits and then go back! Certainly it is embarassing for an ISL club as well.
What a joke the much-heralded tournament is turning out to be!
The organisers of the tournament have been left in a lurch by the mass pull out. But they only have themselves to blame. The blatant disregard the clubs have shown them highlights the baffling way in which the idea of Super Cup has been implemented.
It might be a competition that was required to be conducted as per Asian Football Confederation (AFC) guidelines and directions but the organisers have fast turned the Super Cup into a Super Flop.
Don't be surprised if the Super Cup is cancelled outright this season!