ISL 2018-19: Coaches, international players divided over three mid-season breaks scheduled for fifth season
The ISL organisers have introduced breaks keeping in mind the Indian national team's preparations for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
The introduction of three mid-season breaks in the 2018-19 Indian Super League (ISL) season has induced mixed reactions from coaches and international players from four of the 10 ISL teams. This will be the first time that the ISL will have mid-season breaks in its five-year history.
The ISL organisers have introduced breaks keeping in mind the Indian national team's preparations for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. The first and the second breaks coincide with FIFA's window of international matches. The first break will be from 8 to 16 October during which India will play China in a friendly.
The second break will last from 12 to 20 November after 34 matches would have been played in the season. AIFF is hoping to host Saudi Arabia in a friendly during this window. The third and the largest break starts from 17 December and will presumably end in the first week of February to coincide with the end of the AFC Asian Cup.
The December break will allow the national team to conduct a preparatory camp ahead of the AFC Asian Cup which will be held from 5 January to 1 February in the UAE.
While the break will allow the Indian team to play important friendlies and prepare for the AFC Asian Cup, there have been concerns that the breaks will harm the momentum and rhythm of the ISL clubs. Coaches and international players are divided on their views of the breaks. While some see it as an opportunity to regroup in the middle of the season, others feel that the breaks will hamper the rhythm of the team.
FC Pune City coach Miguel Angel Portugal believes it will be difficult for managers and players to get back into the state of mind they were in before the break. "It is not good for the ISL. One break is good but three breaks are too much. It is not good for the players," he said.
His Delhi Dynamos counterpart, Josep Gombau echoed his views and added that it will be difficult for players and the coaches to adapt to the frequency of matches between the breaks.
"We play our first match and then for 15 days we don't have a game. Then we play five matches in 13 days. To manage the side when we play every two and a half days is very difficult," Gombau said.
FC Goa's Ferran Corominas, while admitting that having breaks isn't an ideal situation, said that the players would ultimately have to adapt to it.
"It's not great for a player to have so many breaks between matches but ultimately you have to adapt. Adaptation will be key in deciding who makes it to the top four this season."
However, for the majority of ISL players and coaches, the breaks are a positive addition to the tournament as the scheduled breaks mirror the ones in the European leagues. The players also believe that the breaks will also allow teams to assess their season and adapt tactically accordingly.
Mumbai City FC captain Lucian Goian said, "It (the breaks) is there everywhere in the world. When FIFA allots dates for international matches, all leagues take a break. Maybe for the clubs who are doing well before the break, it is bad. But for teams who are in a bad shape, it will be good for them as they can clear their minds and train better."
His manager Jorge Costa concurred and added, "The first break is good for us because we didn't have time to work. We have been working for one month and we have only played two games. The 15-day break will help us to improve the team."
While the teams conceded that the December-January break is long, most have opted to look at the positive aspects of it.
Both Costa and Goian have seen the 'winter break' as a welcome change. With a host of international stars hailing from European and South American nations, the 40-day break will allow the stars to head back home for Christmas and the New Year and spend time with their families.
Goian also said that coaches could implement tactical changes during the winter break, something which they won't be able to do when they have to prepare to play matches every third day.
The lack of preparatory camps and the impact of a short domestic calendar are issues that need to be sorted out soon for the Indian national team to prosper.
Talking about India's opponents in the SAFF Championships final, Chhetri praised Nepal’s ability to play as a unit and said that the team is prepared to slog it out on the pitch.
Currently at third spot with five points from three matches, India need nothing less than a win against Maldives to stay in reckoning for the final of the regional tournament.