ISL 2018-19: Change remains a constant in Delhi Dynamos as Josep Gombau's men look to plug holes in defence
Dynamos finished the 2017-18 campaign with six games unbeaten in a row. However, their error-prone defending cannot be forgotten. The renovated defensive unit may do a better job of playing out from the back but the competence demanded by this task is immense.
It has been another summer of change at Delhi Dynamos. Not quite the dismantling of cupboard seen before the 2017-18 season, but Dynamos will be led by a fourth manager in as many campaigns. The entire coaching department was cleared out this summer, save for Fran Perez who works with the senior squad now after being promoted from his previous role as reserve and youth team manager.
However, eight players do remain from a campaign that brought more pain than joy. In an interview to Firstpost earlier this year, Dynamos owner Rohan Sharma stressed on keeping the young Indian core of his team at the club. He has succeeded in that aim but key figures such as Manuel Arana and Kalu Uche have not returned. Nor has manager Miguel Angel Portugal, now in charge of Pune City.
But if the churn has left questions about the direction Dynamos are set to take, new head coach Josep Gombau is keen to allay such fears. “More than tiki-taka, we like to have the ball and attack. We have the responsibility to play entertaining football as well so that the fans who come to see us can enjoy,” said the Spanish manager on Monday.
Encouragingly, the supporters have already made up their mind to turn up in bigger numbers. The club’s decision to slash its cheapest ticket to Rs 49 has ensured that, with a week still to go before Delhi kick off their campaign against Pune on 3 October, sales are reported to be three times the number that was sold for the most popular fixture last season — North East United, like always. But this does not necessarily mean that the club’s chances of going all the way are high.
Dynamos will look to do a few different things on the tactical front. Gombau had the company of Sergio Lobera, manager of the vibrant FC Goa, when he worked with the youth teams at FC Barcelona. His belief in possession-heavy football is certainly attractive on paper; it was also a crucial factor in attracting an old favourite, Marcos Tebar, and the winner of ISL last year, Rene Mihelic, to the club.
But finding the net is going to be a concern. Kalu Uche scored nearly half the goals (13 out of 27) Dynamos managed last term but he will ply his trade at ATK this time around while the second-best marksman with three goals, Matias Mirabaje, is now a Mumbai City recruit. Mirabaje, of course, was the subject of astonishing criticism from the Dynamos owner who alleged that the Uruguayan was out of shape for three-fourths of the campaign.
It was an interesting turn of events as, in the aforementioned interview, Rohan Sharma had held up Mirabaje as an example of the dedication with which foreign players had taken to Dynamos; something changed since. Those aligned with the club will now hope that the owner’s words don’t come back to bite them. Dynamos will require Andrija Kaluderovic to stay fit as the second-choice striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia played only five minutes of football for Bengaluru FC in the ISL last season. However, Adria Carmona can play upfront if needed.
It is the return of Tebar, though, which instills hope in the Dynamos camp as the team sorely needed control in central areas. The former Real Madrid midfielder was a member of the swashbuckling Delhi side in the 2016 season and his ball circulation is likely to bring better use of possession.
Dynamos may no longer have to rely on their wide players in the final third. With the arrival of Mihelic from Chennaiyin FC, Gombau has another option in attack. Not to mention the Slovenian’s dead ball ability; Dynamos did not convert any of their corners or free-kicks last season. Big things are also expected of youngsters Vinit Rai, Lallianzuala Chhangte and S Nandhakumar. With Chhangte and Nandhakumar expected to man the flanks, Gombau will look to catch the opposition out by angled runs and pace.
Upgrades in defence have also arrived in the capital as Narayan Das will be the left-back while Italian goalie Francisco Dorronsoro will bring much-needed stability after Dynamos used four goalkeepers last season. Marti Crespi and Gianni Zuiverloon could form a pair in central defence while Pritam Kotal is set to hold the right-back spot.
But familiar problems could come home to roost. Dynamos finished the 2017-18 campaign with six games unbeaten in a row. However, their error-prone defending cannot be forgotten. The renovated defensive unit may do a better job of playing out from the back but the competence demanded by this task is immense, especially when games come thick and fast. Dynamos’ season could come off the rails early as they play five matches over a fortnight in October.
The travails of Romeo Fernandes is a cautionary tale too. Chhangte, Rai, and Nandhakumar did well to feature prominently last season, but the next step in their development will not come easy. Following his breakthrough campaign for FC Goa in 2014, Fernandes has struggled to touch those heights again and he is unlikely to even start matches for Dynamos in the coming months. Life turns around fast; those posing their trust in the fledgeling Indian stars will do well to temper their expectations.
But the presence of talented youngsters helps a club which cannot boast of the kind of financial resources some of its competitors possess. After suffering heavy losses once again last season, not to mention the onerous franchise fee Dynamos pay every year, there has not been much cash to splash. Previous manager Portugal’s words in an interview with Goal.com about the 2017-18 season are worth recalling. “We signed the foreign players based on the budget. Two players in Pune City, Alfaro and Marcelinho, earned as much as our budget.”
This means that the club does not have many resources to call upon, especially if first-choice players find poor form or get injured. Optimism runs quiet around Dynamos nevertheless, even as Gombau takes stock of the challenging task in front of him. Eventually, the proof of the pudding will have to be in the eating.
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