ISL, seeking Indian ‘magic’, sheds foreign stars
ISL, seeking Indian ‘magic’, sheds foreign stars
Indian fans have been used to seeing the likes of Italy’s Alessandro Del Piero, French striker Nicolas Anelka, and Argentine Diego Forlan during the ISL’s first three seasons.
But as the cash-rich league comes under pressure to nurture home-grown players, teams are now required to have at least six Indians on the field.
The veterans are nearly all gone, with Atletico de Kolkata’s Robbie Keane and Kerala Blasters’ ex-Manchester United stars Dimitar Berbatov and Wes Brown among the few who have tasted football’s big-time.
It means the spotlight will now fall on the Indian players, as well as the foreign coaches in the new championship which has been expanded to 10 teams, increasing the season to almost five months.
Among the managers are Sheringham, 51, who joined reigning champions Kolkata in July, and Coppell at new team Jamshedpur, which is backed by the Tata business empire.
Former Real Madrid player Miguel Angel Portugal is at Delhi Dynamos, while Ranko Popovic at FC Pune City has coached in his native Serbia, Austria, Japan, Spain and Thailand.
Sheringham welcomed the new player restrictions, which follow a period of unaccustomed success for 105th-ranked India after they qualified for the Asian Cup for only the fourth time.
“I think it’s a good decision to have six Indians on the pitch at all times and it means Indians getting more chances to play and show their skills,” said Sheringham, whose side start against Kerala Blasters in Friday’s opener in Kochi.
Sheringham, who made 51 England appearances between 1993 and 2002, is one of three English coaches in the ISL, along with fellow ex-Manchester United player Coppell and John Gregory at Chennaiyin.
Sheringham moved to India from unglamorous English fourth-tier side Stevenage. Packed stadiums in India, considered one of football’s new frontiers, drew him to the ISL.
“I was initially skeptical and asked myself whether I needed to come all the way to India to manage,” he said.
“But then I spoke with people — Steve Coppell of course and even (former Kerala player-manager) David James and they all had good things to say.
“Then when I was told we’ll be playing in front of 60,000 supporters, I thought that’s the sort of atmosphere I want to manage in,” said Sheringham.
Six Indian venues saw big attendances, especially for India’s matches, when the country hosted the Under-17 World Cup in October.
Northeast United’s head coach Joao Carlos Pires de Deus was among many who have been surprised by the quality of Indian footballers.
“You ask me if the Brazilians in my team will produce magic... but what is magic? It’s not limited to Brazilians,” said the Portuguese former left-back.
“Even the Indian players in our team are very skillful and can produce a lot of magic. You see the kid with blonde hair in the U17 World Cup team (Komal Thatal) and he was producing magic. So it’s not limited to a nationality,” he added.
The ISL, whose city-based franchise format apes cricket’s successful Indian Premier League, has grown in popularity since it was launched in 2014, outstripping the 10-year-old I-League in broadcast ratings.
It has added two new teams, Bengaluru FC, a two-time I-League winner, and Jamshedpur who will be led by Coppell. It has also been boosted by its entry into next year’s AFC Cup continental club championship.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) confirmed in July that the ISL winners will go into the qualifying round.
India, once called a “sleeping giant” by former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, has sought to use the U17 World Cup to boost its standing. India made a brief appearance in the top 100 footballing nations this year before slipping out again.
Current FIFA head Gianni Infantino said that “India is also not only a football country but is a football continent,” while lauding the country’s hosting of the U-17 World Cup.
The ISL, which is backed by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, will end with a final on March 17 in Kolkata.
‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay
- A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half gave Uruguay a 1-0 win
- Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance
ROSTOV-ON-DON: Good, but not good enough.
That was what Juan Antonio Pizzi stated as he declared himself pleased with his team’s performance in the 1-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday night.
But he lamented his side’s lack of firepower as they exited the World Cup after just two matches.
Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance in Rostov-on-Don after losing their opening game 5-0 to hosts Russia in Moscow last week.
The Argentine got his wish with a display that saw the Green Falcons fight throughout and edge possession against a Uruguay side ranked 14th in the world.
A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half after poor goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais, however, was enough to hand the Green Falcons a 12th successive World Cup defeat.
The result means that even with a win against Egypt on Monday, the Green Falcons are no longer capable of progressing to the knock-out stages from Group A.
“We had a lot of ball possession and were able to impose our style of play and distribution,” said Pizzi. “We conceded a goal from a random play and didn’t have the weapons or tools to try to equalize. We kept the ball well and weren’t really troubled defensively, but lacked that ability to score.”
Indeed, for all their possession, Saudi Arabia have managed just three shots on target in 180 minutes of football. Against Russia, they failed to muster a single effort on target and the managed just three against Uruguay, two of which came in the final minutes when they knew they had to score or face elimination. None of the three shots came from a striker.
“This is our weakness. We have good ball possession, but no effectiveness. We lack the depth and skill required to win these games,” Pizzi added. “We have that deficiency and have looked for solutions, but we haven’t quite come up with one yet. But that is one of the reasons great forward are in high demand and are the elite players in world football.”
Pizzi had made four changes ahead of the match, dropping goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf in favor of Al-Owais and introducing Ali Al-Bulayhi at the heart of the defense alongside Osama Hawsawi. Further upfield, Hattan Bahberi came in for Yahya Al-Shehri and Fahad Al-Muwallad replaced Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. The changes, particularly the inclusion of Bahberi, seemed to give the side more impetus in midfield.
“The difference between the performance in the first game and this game is enormous,” Pizzi said. “The only way to compete at this level is to play at the level we did here. And even then it was not enough even to get a draw. Undoubtedly there were other factors aside from the pressure of playing in the opening game that made a difference, but it’s true that the difference was enormous.”
Many critics had predicted a deluge of goals from the likes of Suarez and Cavani, yet both were kept at bay. Save for a couple of half-chances early on, neither came close to scoring until the 23rd minute.
A corner from Carlos Sanchez sailed into the area and when Al-Owais came for it but failed to connect with his punch, Barcelona forward Suaréz was left with the simplest of tap-ins. He was so caught off-guard, he actually looked surprised as he reeled away in celebration.
“I believe you cannot be relaxed in any match,” Suarez said when asked by a Uruguayan journalist whether he had taken it easy against the Saudis.
“We wanted to win and to progress to the knock-out stage and this game simply showed how difficult it is. That’s the World Cup for you though and we are obviously delighted with how we have performed so far to progress.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez did not share his striker’s sentiments.
“Saudi Arabia wanted to excel and give a better account of themselves after losing to Russia,” he said.
“They did that very well and we have to respect them. But what surprised me the most is how we played. We underperformed.”