ISL 2021-22: Faith, belief and courage — Hyderabad FC reap rewards of what they sowed last season
The most telling aspect about Hyderabad FC and their title-winning campaign was perhaps how they injected belief into themselves whenever the situation demanded.
Prior to the 2020-21 season of the Indian Super League (ISL), Hyderabad FC (HFC) seemed a team in turmoil. They had been founded a year ago and had slumped to a bottom-placed finish at the first time of asking. They tried installing Albert Roca at the helm, hoping that the Spaniard would, like he did at Bengaluru FC, take them to promised land. That, though, fell flat once FC Barcelona and Ronald Koeman came calling.
At the time, Manolo Marquez, who had built up a decent reputation for nurturing youngsters, was looked upon as a stop-gap signing. His previous work in Spain demanded recognition. Yet, it wasn’t the sort of statement acquisition that made the rest of the ISL sit up and take notice.
As that season progressed, Hyderabad FC started leaving their mark. Not just because they began stringing victories and positive results together, but because they, for large swathes of that season, relied on an Indian core — a core many felt wasn’t good enough to compete on a regular basis.
Thus, before the 2021-22 season, there was plenty of intrigue surrounding Hyderabad FC. They retained most of those players (apart from the notable departure of Liston Colaco) and ensured that they had some sort of continuity.
They brought in a few stellar overseas footballers but the focus, much like it was last campaign, was centred around how their Indian players would fare. And, if they could punch above their weight and help Hyderabad FC etch their name into Indian footballing folklore.
Cut to nearly nine months later. In front of a jam-packed Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at Fatorda, Hyderabad FC found themselves in all sorts of strife. The Kerala Blasters raced out of the traps and seemed intent on grabbing the final by the scruff of its neck.
To an extent, Hyderabad FC began feeling the pinch too, especially when the Blasters put them under the cosh and made HFC question if their approach was sustainable in the pressure confines of a final. For a chunk of the past two seasons, Marquez’s men have banked on keeping possession and recycling it. The Blasters, however, weren’t allowing them that luxury.
Under the circumstances, considering it was the biggest match in the club’s nascent history, it would have been very easy for them to crumble. At the first drinks break, they only had about 33 per cent of the possession and had a pass accuracy percentage just in excess of 50 per cent.
Bartholomew Ogbeche, quite often their guardian angel, was being kept quiet by Marko Leskovic and Ruivah Hormipam. And Joel Chianese, one of their more creative sparks, was hamstrung (literally).
Yet, they found a way to get into the tunnel without any damage. At times, they clung on and they would have looked over their shoulder very nervously when Alvaro Vazquez thundered the crossbar. But they returned into their dressing room relatively unscathed — all while believing that their time would come.
It didn’t come instantly. It came about after 120 minutes of stop-start, helter-skelter and nervy football. However, it never looked like they lost faith in themselves. Each of them knew what their teammates was capable of, and more importantly, each knew that their philosophy, which revolves around having faith, belief and courage, would work just fine.
Speaking solely about Hyderabad FC’s heroics in the penalty shoot-out against the Kerala Blasters would be a bit of injustice. Not because it wasn’t the most aesthetical penalty shoot-out that has ever taken place in the history of the ISL, but because HFC’s season was more than what they accomplished when the decisive moments came around.
First Appearance in the Final ✅
First #HeroISL trophy ✅
A memorable night for @2014_manel & @HydFCOfficial as they end their campaign in style! #HFCKBFC #HeroISLFinal #FinalForTheFans #HeroISL #LetsFootball pic.twitter.com/zauxXrqGga
— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) March 20, 2022
Over the years, teams have been content with prioritizing their foreign complement of players. It has worked for them too, meaning that other clubs have caught up and adopted that sort of strategy. Hyderabad FC, though, have remained steadfast in wanting a young and bustling core of Indian footballers — a core that has only gone from strength to strength this season alongside exceptional foreign talents.
On many different occasions, things weren’t rosy for Hyderabad FC’s Indian players. They were put to the sword and there were days when they couldn’t stitch together enough passes to trouble the opposition. Yet, they almost always believed in those situations. The stats might suggest that Ogbeche dug them out of trouble more often than not. But Hyderabad FC, even by the striker’s own admission, were much more than that.
If anything, they were a side that was so well-drilled collectively that it allowed their marquee players to dazzle. It might not make sense for a lot of people and might even seem paradoxical, especially to those who didn’t watch Hyderabad FC play.
But their movements, which dovetailed with that of Ogbeche, Chianese and Javier Siverio, were a mark of a team that knew exactly what it wanted to indulge in.
Prior to the final, 16 different players (including 10 different Indians) had provided an assist for the club – a tally no one else could match. And, on the big occasion, Sahil Tavora, long viewed as a fringe player and Laxmikant Kattimani — a keeper who hasn’t painted many solid pictures between the sticks, stood up.
There is a lot to admire about Hyderabad FC — whether it be the conviction they portrayed last season and the decisiveness they illustrated this season by seeing it through. The most telling aspect, though, was perhaps how they injected belief into themselves whenever the situation demanded.
This, by the way, is very tough for a side that was only founded in 2019-20 and doesn’t have a rich history to draw inspiration from. If anything, their first memory of the ISL, which culminated in a disastrous last-place finish, should have acted as an impediment.
Instead, they used it as the ideal launchpad. They understood very early what it takes to crack the ISL code. They didn’t get tempted into knee-jerk reactions when it didn’t work out the first time and rather than getting carried away, they returned with greater determination — determination that they can, true to their belief, cause a ripple in the ISL.
That particular facet came through during a final that was designed to push them to the brink and possibly over it. There were patches where they could have undermined every quality they have valued. They could have just hoofed the ball up-field, they could have hit and hoped and they could have just made up the numbers too. But they didn’t.
A , , night for @HydFCOfficial in s! #HFCKBFC #HeroISL #LetsFootball #HeroISLFinal #FinalForTheFans #HyderabadFC pic.twitter.com/twrUuxkgd5
— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) March 20, 2022
Like all great teams, they acknowledged when things weren’t aligning in their favour — while also retaining the belief, courage and faith that has been the crux of their upturn in the past couple of seasons. The struggle has been very real, make no mistake about it.
When they missed out on qualification in 2020-21, they were ridiculed and many even said that they couldn’t achieve the heights they wanted because they were too inexperienced. But what doesn’t completely annihilate you, only makes you stronger. And Hyderabad FC were emblematic of it this season.
They sowed the seeds of their success last time out and were brave enough to reap the rewards in 2021-22. It shouldn’t happen this way — at least that’s what ISL precedent has taught us. But Hyderabad FC made it happen. And that, more than anything else, sums up how special this season was and how glitteringly their tale of faith, belief and courage will be remembered.
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