Several coaches throughout the course of the previous season had voiced their displeasure over refereeing standards in the Indian Super League (ISL). Bengaluru FC manager Carles Cuadrat, former Mumbai City FC and Jamshedpur coaches Jorge Costa and Antonio Iriondo respectively, did not mince words to criticise referees for schoolboy errors on the pitch.
Alarm bells started ringing in the FSDL (Football and Sports Development Limited) headquarters as well and the league organisers approached the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to take cognizance of the issue, and find a short term solution along with a long term blueprint on the lines of a referee development program.
Although Josep Gombau feels that the ISL is pretty well managed and organised, there are two particular aspects which the Spaniard thinks need immediate attention.
"ISL is very well conducted. The stadiums and travel are well organised. Nothing to complain about. But there should be more number of matches. Minimum 26-27 games and then the playoffs. It will make the league much better. The competition in the ISL was very good and cut-throat. Every single team can beat the other team on a given day.
It must be noted that 2020-21 season was supposed to feature 27 games in the league for one team. However, those plans had to be frozen due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
"Also the refereeing standard is poor. But I don't want to blame the referees because they are not professionals. You need to bring them the tools to help them grow. They are working somewhere else and on weekends or off days, they are working as a referee. They should be focussed on one job. They need to train every day under foreign referees to improve. So I don't find fault with the referees. They should be helped," stated the Spanish manager.
India has drawn Australia in the AFC U16 championship and since the 44-year-old coach spent almost five years down under plying his trade in various capacities at several clubs and even with the national team and he knows the football structure of the Socceroos like the back of his palm. He opines that the major differences in the two countries are infrastructure and the quality of grassroots programmes.
"The youth structure is very robust over there (Australia). There a lot of games for the kids along with great academies. India is starting to walk the same path now. They (Australia) have a plan and a lot of investment in infrastructure with longer leagues in place. The kids must not only train well but they must also have more competitive matches for their all-round development. In India, the don't play enough matches. There is a lot of room to improve in these aspects. Qatar have been working hard with their young players since 2008. They reaped rewards in 2019 by winning the AFC Asian Cup.
"Australia is also ahead in terms of facilities. The A-League is more matured. The quality of the pitches is also very different. The training pitches in India are not up to the mark. I was training in a first division club and the pitch was not good. When I played away games, the day before the match it was difficult to get good training pitches. So I can imagine the condition of the pitch where the juniors train. These are the basics," commented the former Barcelona youth coach,
Gombau agrees that India have also started to tread the right path and believes that the next decade can be a game-changer for Indian football.
"I am sure India will definitely catch up, it needs time. The next 10 years will be vital for India. There are good academies that are being established in the country. So now India will have players will with more knowledge and ideas. Currently, they lack simple concepts and basics. But with these academies, hopefully, things will improve."
After severing ties with Odisha FC, the coach is looking forward to a new assignment and it is likely that the deal with New York-based Queensboro is likely to be announced in the coming weeks.