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Bhutia gets interim relief, can play for East Bengal

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Saturday, 26. September 2009 - Rajeeb Mukherjee

This was a bit of news that ought to have made Baichung Bhutia’s day.

Having spent sleepless nights following his six-month suspension by Mohun Bagan, the India skipper could now breathe easy after the All India Football Federation-appointed arbitrator gave him temporary relief and cleared him to play for any club of his choice.

Talking to IndianFootball.Com, former solicitor general Amarendra Sharan said on Saturday, “Baichung Bhutia can play anywhere of his choice.”

The ruling was in response to Bhutia’s plea for interim relief. However, the case between Mohun Bagan and Bhutia would continue till a final verdict is reached.

“Bhutia has to give an undertaking that in the event the final verdict goes against him, he will sit out the remaining of the suspended period,” Sharan added.

After nearly four months of frustration, Bhutia was obviously a relieved man. “I lost quite a few months besides missing out on two tournaments. I feel relieved today but the decision took a long time in coming,” said the India captain, who had complained during the country’s successful Nehru Cup campaign that the case was destroying his peace of mind. He also pleged to continue his fight against Mohun Bagan. “Mohun Bagan were trying to target my image and tarnish my career. But I will continue the fight so that other players don’t have to go through a similar crisis,” said Bhutia, who can now play for East Bengal in the I-League.

Despite the interim relief, the case between Mohun Bagan and Bhutia would continue. “There are issues pertaining to monetary compensation besides the suspension which have to be dealt with,” said Rupinder Suri of Suri and Company, the legal firm representating Mohun Bagan. Mohun Bagan general secretary Anjan Mitra sounded a bit dejected by the ruling. “There’s no scope for interim relief in the AIFF rule book. The AIFF rule states that if a player signs for one club then he can’t sign for another. The interim relief thing is very conflicting. We will take legal opinion before proceeding on this case,” said Mitra.

Bhutia’s counsel Usha Nath Banerjee was vacationing in Rajasthan when IndianFootball.Com broke the news to him. “Whatever Mohun Bagan are saying holds no ground. Their agreement with Bhutia itself is illegal. According to article 5.2 of the AIFF regulation on transfers, when an agreement is signed between a club and a player, it has to be registered at the state association within seven days. But in Bhutia’ case it has not been submitted at the IFA office till date,” said Banerjee.

As for the final verdict, Banerjee said, “It was my idea that if Bhutia is found guilty in the final verdict, then he will sit out the rest of the suspension period.” Having already spent close to four months away from club football, a verdict against him would mean he would have to sit out another couple of months.

But as of now he is free to play and it was greeted with more of relief than jubilation by Bhutia’s long friend Renedy Singh. In June this year Bhutia was suspended for six months without pay by Mohun
Bagan after he missed a few training sessions and a couple of exhibition matches since he was busy with a dance reality show on television. Bhutia, who had sought permission from the club before participating in the show, contested the decision and the matter was referred to the IFA who in turn asked the AIFF to take a call.

Bhutia in the meantime had gone ahead and signed with East Bengal and stated he would never play for Mohun Bagan. After AIFF general secretary Alberto Colaco failed to break the deadlock the executive committee opted for an arbitrator who went through four rounds of hearing before giving his verdict.