Pro Kabaddi League 2018: Powered by Iranian discipline and resolve, youthful U Mumba set to usher in new era

U Mumba no longer possess the star-studded squad that served them so well in the opening three seasons, but powered by Iranian discipline and resolve, the Mumbai side are going to present a very different but efficient front

Kaushal Shukla October 07, 2018 13:12:52 IST
Pro Kabaddi League 2018: Powered by Iranian discipline and resolve, youthful U Mumba set to usher in new era

U Mumba hit the ground running in Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) and captured the imagination of their fans by reaching three straight finals. By the third season, they were the league's Galacticos full of star names from top to bottom. Every player was an advertisement for the position he played in. The Anup Kumar-led side was perhaps the strongest team to ever play in the PKL.

Looking back, U Mumba would be disappointed that they were able to win just one title, but they won admirers that have stuck with the franchise despite the palpable drop in quality in the last two seasons.

The auction at the end of season three was always going to cost a team oozing with quality like U Mumba. Their dream team was broken and the Mumbai outfit has never looked the same again.

In season four and five, the team failed to reach the playoffs. Their performances were a stark contrast to the way they played in the opening three seasons. The U Mumba juggernaut under captain Anup Kumar and coach Edachery Bhaskaran had run its race. It was the end of a cycle.

After five seasons together, U Mumba parted ways with coach Bhaskaran and decided against retaining Anup. A fresh start was well and truly underway, but only a few expected U Mumba to choose a drastically different way.

The franchise announced Iranian kabaddi team coach Gholamreza Mazandarani as their new gaffer, making him the first foreign coach in PKL history. The choice was met with raised eyebrows which were somewhat restrained after Mazandarani's Iran side won the gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games.

For the coach, the move opened new avenues to learn more about the sport.

"I was surprised a bit, but I am so happy to coach in the PKL. It will be a great learning experience for me. It is also an honour for kabaddi in Iran as one of their own is going to India to coach in their league," Mazandarani had told Firstpost during the Kabaddi Masters tournament in June.

The Iranian was likely to leave a mark on his team, and the way U Mumba recruited their players in the auctions showcased his influence on the franchise.

Auction purchases and team combination 

Pro Kabaddi League 2018 Powered by Iranian discipline and resolve youthful U Mumba set to usher in new era

U Mumba is the first team to have a foreign coach in Pro Kabaddi. Image Courtesy: Twitter/@U_Mumba

With a fresh start in mind, U Mumba didn't retain any of its previous players before the auction. They set the auctions on fire after purchasing Iranian captain Fazel Atrachali for Rs 1 crore. Atrachali wasn't the only Iranian recruit. His teammates Hadi Tajik and Abolfazl Maghsodloumahali were also taken aboard.

Dharmaraj Cheralathan was the other notable purchase made by U Mumba to further shore up their defence. He was joined by Telugu Titans defender Rohit Rana. Surender Singh who was a regular feature for the Mumbai outfit was re-signed.

"Coach Gholam's idea was to build a strong backbone for the team. So our priority was to sign good defenders, so that we have a platform to build on. That's what we tried to do in the auctions and we are happy with what we acquired," assistant coach Upendra Kumar told Firstpost.

With PKL allowing just two foreign players to be on the mat at the same time, coach Gholam will have to make a choice between Tajik and Abolfazl. However, with U Mumba lacking plenty of options in the raiding department, Abolfazl is likely to get the nod.

At the corners, Atrachali and Cheralathan can be expected to renew the partnership of their Patna Pirates days. In the cover positions, Rana and Surender are probable starters. Both defenders had a season to forget last season and will need to show substantial improvement in order to support their corners.

Both Surender and Rana are highly skilled in terms of their defensive abilities, but their decision-making came under heavy criticism last season. Coach Gholam will have his task cut out to get the best out of the duo.

The team's raiding department appears fairly lightweight. Abolfazl had an average campaign with Dabang Delhi last year and the Iranian will struggle to find a lot of support. Rohit Baliyan, youngster Siddharth Desai and former Patna Pirates raider Vinod Kumar complete the raiding force. U Mumba will have to rely on young and inexperienced raiders to carry their hopes this season.

However, if coach Upendra is concerned, he sees that as an advantage. "The advantage of having young raiders is that the opponents don't have much information on them. We have some of the best young raiders in our side and we have worked a lot on variations. I personally feel our raiders will surprise a few teams," the U Mumba assistant coach said.

Preparation and training

The preparation and training regimes have changed dramatically under new coach Gholam who has tried to apply some Iranian principles to the side.

"Every coach is different, but Gholam has a unique way of preparation. He has placed a high emphasis on fitness and has designed few regimes and circuits that are tailor-made for kabaddi players," Upendra Kumar revealed.

"He is of the belief that to execute the skill to perfection, fitness is of paramount importance. So he has tried to bring the squad to a very high level of fitness. So far, the players have warmed up to the idea and are reaping the benefits during training sessions," he added.

U Mumba had two fitness camps that each lasted a week. Since 3 September, the team has been in the final preparatory camp in Nashik.

Expect U Mumba to be a very disciplined and efficient unit, mirroring Gholamreza Mazandarani's Iran side that won the gold medal at the Asian Games.

Can U Mumba bring back its glory days? 

U Mumba no longer possess the star-studded squad that served them so well in the opening three seasons, but powered by Iranian discipline and resolve, the Mumbai side is going to present a very different but efficient front.

A lot will rest on captain Atrachali and the way he marshals the defence. If U Mumba can forge together a defence that's as miserly as that of Iran, they have a genuine chance of making the playoffs. The defence is their strength and the onus will be on the rearguard to take the team to the latter stages.

The raiding department looks the weakest on paper, but there's some exciting young talent that may have a point or two to prove.

U Mumba's new era may not be filled with the kind of success its fans had got used to in the early years, but it will certainly be a shift from the rather mediocre years in the recent past.

All eyes will be on the first ever foreign coach in the PKL, but his incredible track record suggests neither him or his team are here to make up the numbers.

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