Blasters refuse to continue playing after contentious Chhetri free-kick

Kerala Blasters refuse to continue playing after contentious Chhetri free-kick

March 4, 2023

Bengaluru FC marched on to the semi-final of the Indian Super League (ISL) after a controversial clash against Kerala Blasters on Friday evening. The Kanteerava saw one of the ISL’s most intriguing clashes as the Blasters were ordered to walk off from pitch by their manager, Ivan Vukomanovi?, following the game’s solitary goal, which was scored by the Blues’ skipper, Sunil Chhetri.

The two sides played out a 0-0 draw up until the 90-minute mark. The game was played at a good tempo, with BFC having the better chances. However, as the game approached extra time, Kerala Blasters looked the more threatening side and were more likely to pinch a goal as compared to BFC. The game, however, did not see a goal inside regulation time, and the sides were required to play the additional thirty minutes.

During the first half of extra time, Bengaluru FC earned themselves a free-kick close of the Blasters box, and it was at this point that the much-spoken-about incident took place. 

Sunil Chhetri placed the ball and had Adrián Luna right in front of him, who ensured that the free-kick was not taken quickly. As the Blasters keeper, Prabshukhan Gill, came off his line to bark orders at his wall, Chhetri, sensing an opportunity, took his free-kick and scored. The Blasters were infuriated that the goal was given by the referee, Crystal John, considering the fact that he never blew the whistle and so the players were not ready. However, the referee had seemingly given the go to Chhetri to take the free-kick.

John faced backlash not only from the Blasters players and coach but also from several fans online. As per the law, there is no requirement for the referee to blow the whistle for a free-kick unless he explicitly states the same.

Chhetri went on to clarify in his post-match interview that the referee had clearly given him the go to take the free-kick and mentioned that he did not need the Indian star to wait for his whistle. The Blasters midfielder, Luna, would have heard the same for all money, further explaining his position so close to the dead ball. 

The Blasters walk off the pitch

There remains little to nothing to suggest that the decision taken by the referee in this game was wrong. The matter becomes far more bizarre due to the decision taken by the Blasters to walk off the field.

Regardless of whether the decision was right or wrong, the Blasters choosing to walk off the pitch will have serious ramifications. No club should get away with walking away from a game of football because of their dissatisfaction with one of the referee’s decisions. This incident unfortunately leaves a black mark on the Blasters’ history and does not do them any good. 

The effect of such a decision could include points deductions as well as suspension by the league based on the severity of the issue. It would be safe to assume that the matter is quite severe. The players chose to walk off based on the referee’s call that did not go their way. Several clubs across the globe could end up halting football games if such an act is taken lightly and not deemed severe. Moreover, the decision to walk off seems to have come from the Blasters boss, Vukomanovi?, who might well have played out his final game in India. 

Comparisons to Mohun Bagan walking off against East Bengal 

To understand the ramifications for the Blasters, we can date back to the beginning of the 2010s, when Mohun Bagan walked off midway during the Kolkata derby after their winger Syed Rahim Nabi was hit by a brick from the crowd. The player was hospitalised and had to undergo surgery after the incident. As a result, the players decided not to walk out and the club was expelled from the I-League that season. 

Considering the events of the case, the next step will be for the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to sit together and decide the fate of Kerala Blasters. The punishment dished out in this case was not in relation to the players not coming out because of referee’s decision, but a slightly more complicated situation of a fellow player getting hit by something thrown at him by the crowd. The Blasters situation is far less grave, did not threaten the security of any player, and was a just a case of poor judgment from the manager. 

Let us remember that the Blasters are a huge name in the ISL and contribute to selling out stadiums. However, no club is above the league, and the harshest of punishments need to be dished out to prevent such an event in the league’s future.

Bengaluru FC to take on Mumbai City in the semi-final

Amid all the chaos, it is easy to forget that the Blues are on an incredible nine-game winning run and will now face the League Shield holders Mumbai City FC across two legs in the semi-final of the tournament.

The first of the two legs will be played at the Mumbai Football Arena on the 7th of March. The second leg will see the ISL return to the Kanteerava, where the hope will be to complete a football game this time. 

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