New Delhi: Winds of change were blowing over the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on the eve of its polls as the sports body braced up to elect a former player as its president for the first time in its 85-year-old existence.
In Friday's elections for the post of AIFF president, 45-year-old Bhaichung Bhutia, one of the legends of Indian football, will have a straight fight with former Mohun Bagan and East Bengal goalkeeper Kalyan Chaubey.
Chaubey, 45, is believed to be the front-runner for the top job.
Chaubey is a BJP leader from West Bengal and there would be no marks for guessing that he does enjoy a fair amount of political currency, which is a must in these kind of sports body polls.
There has been a lot of noise as Chaubey is believed to have the "blessings" of one of the most influential political heavyweights from the North East with active interest in Indian sports.
And many people connected to Indian football see this as the reason why Bhutia's home state association Sikkim isn't supporting his candidature.
Elections to the other two top posts -- general secretary and treasurer -- will also see straight fights between two candidates.
Rajasthan Football Association president Manvendra Singh, a Congress politician (also son of former defence minister Jaswant Singh of BJP), entered the fray against N A Haris for the lone vice-president's post.
Haris is the president of Karnataka FA and a sitting Congress MLA from the state.
Manvendra's state association had seconded the candidature of Bhutia.
Andhra Pradesh Football Association president Gopalakrishna Kosaraju and Kipa Ajay of Arunachal Pradesh are the two candidates in the fray for the treasurer's post.
Kosaraju, who had proposed Bhutia as the presidential candidate, had on August 26 written a letter to withdraw his candidature. But sources said he had not filled up a form to withdraw and hence, his candidature remained.
The new AIFF dispensation will have lots on its plate, the foremost task among them being the smooth conduct of the FIFA Women's U-17 World Cup in October.
After the deadline of withdrawal of candidature ended at 1 pm on Tuesday, returning officer Umesh Sinha released the final list of contestants.
The electoral college of 34 representatives from the state associations have been issued by the returning officer.
Elections are to be held for the posts of president, vice-president, treasurer and 14 executive committee members. Six former players -- four male and two women -- will be co-opted later as executive committee members with voting rights.
As only 14 candidates are in the fray for as many posts of executive committee members, all of them are set to be declared elected.
They are G P Palguna, Avijit Paul, P Anilkumar, Valanka Natasha Alemao, Maloji Raje Chhatrapati, Menla Ethenpa, Mohan Lal, Arif Ali, K Neibou Sekhose, Lalnghinglova Hmar, Deepak Sharma, Vijay Bali and Syed Imtiaz Husain.
The polls were earlier scheduled to be held under the aegis of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) on August 28.
But, in a verdict on August 22, the SC terminated the mandate of the CoA, disallowed the inclusion of 36 former players in the electoral college and postponed the polls by a week in order to salvage the Women's U-17 World Cup whose hosting was jeopardised after FIFA suspended the AIFF.
The world football governing body though lifted the ban on August 26, clearing the decks for India to host the Women's U-17 World Cup.
Known as 'Sikkimese Sniper' during his playing days for his goal-scoring prowess, Bhutia alleged meddling from some ruling Sikkim Krantakari Morcha (SKM) party leaders by way of pressurising the state football body president Menla Ethenpa to vote against him.
During his illustrious career, Bhutia made a total of 104 appearances for India, and retired in 2011, with a then record 40 goals to his name.
In 1999, Bhutia had become the first Indian footballer to sign with a European club, after he was roped in by English team Bury.
His career also included successful stints at prominent Indian clubs like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
Following his retirement, Bhutia managed teams like United Sikkim and also headed the AIFF's technical committee.
Bhutia's opponent in the polls, Chaubey is a graduate from the renowned Tata Football Academy (TFA).
Some of Chaubey's batch-mates include Dipendu Biswas, Rennedy Singh, Lolendro Singh, former Mohun Bagan coach Shankarlal Chakraborty.
Chaubey made his senior club football debut in 1996 with Bagan and went on to represent East Bengal, JCT and Salgaocar among others from 1997 to 2003.
The former goalkeeper is remembered for being a part of SAFF Championship winning squad thrice and representing five different states in the national championship during his career.
During his professional career spanning 15 years, Chaubey became a five-time runner-up in the I-League/National Football League.
He had been to Germany for trials in Bundesliga clubs like Karlsruher SC and VfR Heilbronn.
After his retirement, he served many football associations and also contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election from the Krishnanagar Constituency where he lost to Trinamool Congress' Mohua Moitra.