Bengaluru, March 2: Ozone FC Bengaluru, a city-based I-League second division club, will kick-start its campaign on March 16 against Kerala Blasters reserves in Kochi. Four days later, they will host FC Goa at the Bangalore Football Stadium but they have a bigger problem two days after that. The final round of the Santosh Trophy National Football Championship kicks off in Kolkata on March 22 and Ozone have provided five players from their squad for the Karnataka state team.
Bengaluru FC reserves too will figure in the I-League second division and they also face a similar predicament.
Although the All India Football Federation has ensured that Ozone and BFC 'B' do not play any second division fixtures between March 22 and April 1 - the duration of the Santosh Trophy, the club is worried about the state of its players.
Ozone coach David Booth has made it clear that he's ready to help out the state team but the players will have to train under him. He indicated that he cannot send his players for any training camp before the Santosh Trophy's final round as it's too close to their own second division campaign. Ozone, after all, are trying to gain promotion from the second division into the top flight. Their bid for a direct entry was rejected in 2017 and Gokulam Kerala FC were instead chosen to be part of the I-League.
"We provided seven players from Ozone FC for the South Zone Championship of the Santosh Trophy," Booth said on Friday (March 2). "I don't know what the final number is this time but we're prepared to help the state team any way we can. We are ambitious about the I-League too. I would like the players to train under me and go and play Santosh Trophy if they have to. We've to sit down and decide on it."
A meeting among the Bengaluru FC, Ozone and the Karnataka State Football Association officials is expected to take place on Monday (March 5) to finalise the squad for the final round.
"Tomorrow, we're sending a letter to both Bengaluru FC and Ozone FC Bengaluru requesting their players for the Santosh Trophy," KSFA treasurer AD Nagendra said. "Our first match is on March 22, while the previous I-League second division match ends on March 19 (sic) I believe. I understand that these clubs will not release players for the training camp because of their second division commitments but we'll sit with them on Monday and discuss what to do further."
As it stands, Bengaluru FC 'B', placed in Group C of the I-League second division, are ready to offload their players for the Santosh Trophy. However, Vignesh G, the Ozone captain, also serves as the skipper for Karnataka. The state cannot really do without its captain and the KSFA is expected to push for his retention into the final squad. KSFA, it is learnt, is ready to bring in stand-bys if the other four - Anup Theresraj, Abhishek Das, Rushi Anto and Vignesh D - are not released.
"For us, the important thing is they have opportunity to play," BFC chief technical officer Mandar Tamhane said. "I don't have the schedule with me but if it's just a couple of matches in between that they will miss for us, we won't have a problem having the players play for the state team. As a football club, it's on us also to help the state when possible."
Ozone FC Bengaluru has been making headlines.😍 pic.twitter.com/5kWsfGv8e2— OzoneFCBengaluru (@fc_ozone) February 24, 2018
Tamhane was pretty understanding of Ozone's dilemma too. "Second division clubs ideally would not like to let their players go because they have aspirations as well. They want to win it and go to the first division. For us, it's a slightly different situation," he admitted.