The sixth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) will see the beautiful game head to a city with a glorious past in Indian football, but one which has slipped from the consciousness of the layman in the recent past.
For a city whose football association was formed in 1939 and which consistently produced stars during the golden era of Indian football in the late 1950s, Hyderabad has barely been a footnote in recent decades. The city which once gifted the nation with the architect of modern Indian football, Syed Abdul Rahim, will hope the extravaganza that the ISL is, manages to bring it back into the spotlight.
Financial troubles had plagued Pune City FC since its inception, the Rajesh Wadhawan group-owned franchise now dissolved, paving the way for the establishment of Hyderabad FC, a franchise helmed by entrepreneur Vijay Madduri and former Kerala Blasters CEO, Varun Tripuraneni in late August of this year.
A sudden inclusion and a dearth of time for planning and preparation mean Hyderabad FC will essentially bear the footprints of Pune City FC, simply rebranded in a different costume. While it may take away a lot of the essence for the fans of both the now-defunct Pune franchise as well as the newer support base of the Hyderabad-based club and is mostly a way for the ISL to get around the financial doldrums which the previous franchise was in, it won’t necessarily be a disadvantage.
Philip Brown’s appointment towards the end of last season had many believing that Pune City FC had pulled off a street smart strategy in employing the Englishman. The short span of ISL has seen quite a few managers with European pedigree who have failed to adapt to the nature of the league. Although this season would be turning over a fresh page for Brown, the early signs were promising as he led a struggling Pune side to three wins and two draws in just six matches, successfully avoiding the stigma of the wooden spoon holders.
Known for his managerial tenure at Hull City FC, whom he had led to the promotion to top-flight for the first time in 104 years, Brown is not a quintessential English manager – he may prefer his sides to be defensively astute, but he puts equal emphasis on playing a free-flowing style of football.
“We are determined to play the brand of football which should be entertaining and also help the team win matches,” Brown told reporters during the unveiling of the team jersey. And in spite of their lack of preparation time, Hyderabad FC have managed to assemble a relatively strong unit.
Heading the frontline will be Marcelinho who was a regular for Pune City FC following his dream debut season with the other dissolved entity, Delhi Dynamos, when he had finished as the league’s top scorer. The former Atletico Madrid academy graduate’s mettle has never been in question and he will get adequate support from fellow Brazilian Deyvison Rogerio da Silva, an inspired signing. Popularly known as Bobo, the 35-year-old has plied his trade for Besiktas and Sydney FC, his remarkable consistency always on display.
Completing an all-round attack is former Derby County youth player Giles Barnes – the Jamaican international looking to find a home after a few unsuccessful stints in the MLS. Leading the Indian contingent will be veteran Robin Singh. Brown’s main concerns lie in the midfield for the dynamic Nestor Gordillo remains suspended in the formative phase of the season. The Spaniard turned out for last season’s I-League champions Chennai City FC having forced a controversial move into the ISL.
Gordillo would have been Hyderabad FC’s primary attacking threat, his goals and assists contributing immensely to Chennai City’s success last season, but with the Spaniard missing, Brown would look for creativity from his young Indian midfielders – Sahil Tavora and Laldanmawia Ralte - the latter, in particular, is very highly rated by coaches and peers alike. The management did an excellent job in retaining the Austrian midfield general Marko Stankovic, who will anchor the midfield and play a crucial role in leading a group of inexperienced midfielders.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of this Hyderabad FC squad is their defensive setup. Matthew Kilgallon’s arrival will mitigate the losses of Matt Mills and Martin Diaz. The former Sunderland centre-half is expected to walk into the starting line-up and it remains to be seen whether he partners Adil Khan or Rafael Lopez Gomez at the back.
Adil Khan has been a revelation recently, even becoming a crucial unit of Igor Stimac’s Indian juggernaut. Not only has Khan cut out the errors from his game, but his leadership abilities have flourished as he commanded his backlines with elan hitherto unseen. The presence of the experienced Gurtej Singh and the young Sahil Panwar gives Brown’s side a balanced look and enough defensive firepower to go up against the best sides in the league.
Hyderabad FC will be led by their custodian Kamaljit Singh, who has an able back-up in Laxmikant Kattimany. The fact that the club has never played at Gachibowli Stadium, their home venue for the season, may lead to Brown’s side take some time to adapt to the conditions, but they come into the season on the back of a short, yet superb pre-season during which they won all their seven friendlies.
Hyderabad FC will begin their maiden campaign at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan, Kolkata against a wounded ATK side which suffered a close defeat to Kerala Blasters in the opening fixture before heading to Jamshedpur for a tussle with the Jamshedpur FC on 2 November, their first home game and the City of Nizams’ first taste of the ISL.
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Updated Date: Oct 24, 2019 09:12:17 IST