Time for football knights

Indian Super League :The second edition of the event will kick off tonight even as problems plague the game in the country

Time for football knights
 The countdown started in a surreal manner. A football-crazy boy dribbling a ball through to the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, pulling a sea of people behind him, to be eventually questioned, ‘kaun kambakt football nahi khelta?’ — a modified version of a dialogue from the Shahrukh Khan-starrer Devdas.

Who the hell doesn’t play football? Good question in a country where the game, despite its strong following, is fighting to present a meaningful challenge at the international level. The national team is struggling and the clubs are facing an uncertain future but all those problems will be pushed underneath the carpet for at least a couple of months as the game reinvents itself in a new avatar, beginning Saturday.

After the stupendous success in its inaugural season that saw spectators flock the stadiums across the country, the Indian Super League (ISL) is back. And when defending champions Atletico de Kolkata take on Chennaiyin FC in the opening game, the hopes of an improvement in quality is very much alive.

The inaugural season saw international stars already past their prime — Alessandro del Piero, Freddie Ljungberg, Luis Garcia and Roberto Pires — bring sparks of entertainment. The second season seems to promise a bit more. With the likes of Roberto Carlos, Hélder Postiga, Adrian Mutu and Carlos Marchena plying their trade for different teams, there seems to be no dearth in quality on the pitch.

Moreover, with top Indian players like Sunil Chhetri, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Rino Anto also involved for the first time, one could look forward to a better fare in the next two months. However, despite the big names and the attendent glitz, the tournament continues to stir debate, thanks to the lack of clarity on which direction the game is headed in the country.

“There is no doubt that the ISL has been successful in bringing crowds back to the stadiums,” said Armando Colaco, former coach of the highly successful Dempo Sports Club. “But how can we deny the obvious. For how long can we believe that a three-month long competition is what will take Indian football ahead?”

With the cash-rich league  — the winners take home Rs 8 crore — casting a shadow on the premier football competition of the country, the I-League, many like Colaco believe that instead of a merger of the two leagues, as proposed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), it would do the domestic league a great favour if the I-League too is taken over by IMG-Reliance, the promoters of the ISL.

“They have done a professional job with the ISL. Something that was missing with the I-League. It used to hurt to see 500-600 people turn out for a Dempo vs Salgaocar game in the I-League,” said a former Indian captain. “But with the ISL, things have changed. We have people coming to the stadium for every game. And moreover the players too are benefiting from it. So, if such a model can be adopted by the I-League, things can change for the good,” he added.

In the rush for bigger stakes, those words seem to be reaching nowhere. While the national team coach Stephen Constantine saw his proposal for a camp ahead of the World Cup qualifier being turned down due to the reluctance of the league to release the players, Indian football legend IM Vijayan said that it was up to the All India Football Federation to find the right balance. “I will hold the AIFF responsible,” said Vijayan. “The national team should undoubtedly be our priority.”

Indeed, the onus is on the federation to set up facilities and groom young talent if the game is to go forward, as all the veteran coaches and stars assembled for the ISL readily agree.  The scenario, though, doesn’t promise a change in the near future and those questions will nag the Indian football fans as they take their seats for the ISL, eager to bask in the shinier side of the game. Afterall, who doesn’t want to watch a good game of football?


Date    Home Team        Away Team    Venue
 03-Oct    Chennaiyin     vs    Kolkata    Chennai      
04-Oct    Goa    vs    Delhi     Goa      
05-Oct    Pune     vs    Mumbai     Pune
06-Oct    Blasters    vs    Northeast     Kochi      
07-Oct    Goa    vs    Kolkata    Goa      
08-Oct    Delhi     vs    Chennaiyin     Delhi      
09-Oct    Pune     vs    Northeast      Pune      
10-Oct    Blasters     vs    Mumbai     Kochi      
11-Oct    Goa    vs    Chennaiyin     Goa      
13-Oct    Kolkata    vs    Blasters     Kolkata      
14-Oct    Pune     vs    Delhi     Pune      
15-Oct    Northeast     vs    Goa    Guwahati      
16-Oct    Mumbai     vs    Chennaiyin     Mumbai      
17-Oct    Pune     vs    Kolkata    Pune      
18-Oct    Blasters     vs    Delhi     Kochi      
20-Oct    Northeast     vs    Chennaiyin     Guwahati      
21-Oct    Mumbai     vs    Delhi     Mumbai      
22-Oct    Goa    vs    Blasters     Goa      
23-Oct    Northeast     vs    Kolkata    Guwahati      
24-Oct    Chennaiyin     vs    Pune     Chennai      
25-Oct    Mumbai     vs    Goa    Mumbai      
27-Oct    Pune     vs    Blasters     Pune      
28-Oct    Mumbai     vs    Northeast     Mumbai      
29-Oct    Kolkata    vs    Delhi     Kolkata      
30-Oct    Goa    vs    Pune     Goa      
31-Oct    Blasters     vs    Chennaiyin     Kochi      
01-Nov    Mumbai     vs    Kolkata    Mumbai      
03-Nov    Delhi     vs    Northeast     Delhi      
04-Nov    Blasters     vs    Pune     Kochi      
05-Nov    Chennaiyin     vs    Goa    Chennai      
06-Nov    Delhi     vs    Mumbai     Delhi     

Date    Home Team        Away Team    Venue
07-Nov    Kolkata    vs    Northeast     Kolkata      
08-Nov    Pune     vs    Goa    Pune      
10-Nov    Blasters     vs    Kolkata    Kochi      
11-Nov    Chennaiyin     vs    Northeast     Chennai      
13-Nov    Mumbai      vs    Pune    Mumbai      
14-Nov    Delhi     vs    Kolkata    Delhi      
15-Nov    Northeast     vs    Blasters     Guwahati      
17-Nov    Goa    vs    Mumbai     Goa      
18-Nov    Kolkata    vs    Chennaiyin    Kolkata      
19-Nov    Delhi     vs    Pune     Delhi      
20-Nov    Northeast     vs    Mumbai     Guwahati      
21-Nov    Chennaiyin     vs    Blasters     Chennai      
22-Nov    Kolkata    vs    Goa    Kolkata      
24-Nov    Chennaiyin     vs    Delhi     Chennai      
25-Nov    Goa    vs    Northeast     Goa      
26-Nov    Mumbai     vs    Blasters    Mumbai      
27-Nov    Kolkata    vs    Pune     Kolkata      
28-Nov    Northeast     vs    Delhi     Guwahati      
29-Nov    Blasters     vs    Goa    Kochi      
01-Dec    Chennaiyin     vs    Mumbai     Chennai      
02-Dec    Northeast     vs    Pune     Guwahati      
03-Dec    Delhi     vs    Blasters     Delhi      
04-Dec    Kolkata    vs    Mumbai     Kolkata      
05-Dec    Pune     vs    Chennaiyin    Pune      
06-Dec    Delhi     vs    Goa    Delhi   

Semifinal first leg:            11-Dec and 12-Dec
Semifinal second leg:            15-Dec and 16-Dec
FINAL                   20 December     Goa

All matches start at 7.00 pm
Live on Star Sports

Delhi Dynamos

After failing to impress in the first edition despite having the likes of Alessandro del Piero in their ranks, Delhi Dynamos have once again recruited aggressively in their quest for the title in season two.

Brazllian legend and World Cup winner Roberto Carlos has taken over as the new manager cum marquee player, along with former Liverpool wing back John Arne Riise, who will lead the team this season.

Dynamos have also signed former French international Florent Malouda, who will look to provide the much needed creative spark in the midfield and the addition of striker Adil Nabi on loan from West Brom­wich Albion will serve as a potent threat in the attack.
Coach: Roberto Carlos. Marquee player: Roberto Carlos.
Key player: Florent Malouda.
Last year: Fifth place in the league.

Mumbai city fc

Following a below par performance in the inaugural season, Mumbai City FC have brought in heavy reinforcements to their side for the second edition.

The Ranbir Kapoor co-owned side retained Frenchman Nicolas Anelka as their marquee player and handed him the coaching responsibility as well. They have also retained the services of two key players in midfielder Andre Moritz and centre-back Pavel Cmvos. Subrata Paul will continue to guard the goal while Subhash Singh and Lalrindika Ralte are also among the Indian players who feature for the team again.

Ex-Premier League striker Frederic Piquionne will join in the attack along with Indian superstar Sunil Chettri. Mohan Bagan’s Sony Norde has also been roped in to boost the attacking unit.

Coach: Nicolas Anelka. Marquee player: Nicolas Anelka
Key player: Sunil Chettri. Last year: Seventh in the league.

NorthEast United

After a disappointing last place finish in the inaugural season of the ISL, NorthEast United will look to change their fortunes in the second season of Indian Super League. Former Venezuelan manager Cesar Farias has been roped in to replace Ricki Herbert as the new coach of the side.

The John Abraham co-owned team have signalled their intent by bringing in a new marquee signing in former Barcelona and Atletico Madrid player Simao Sabrosa.
Coach: Cesar Farias
Marquee player: Simao Sabrosa
Last year’s placing: Eighth place in the league.

FC Pune City

They endured a forgettable inaugural season, finding it difficult to get wins under their belt. But this time around, FC Pune City will look to make amends. Sporting a new-look side, led by the controversial Adrian Mutu, the Pune team could be a force to reckon, especially with the likes of Eugeneson Lygdoh and Jackichand Singh featuring in midfield.
Coach: David Platt. Marquee player: Adrian Mutu. Key players: Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Didier Zokora.
Last year’s placing: Sixth place in the league.

Chennaiyin FC

One of the most impressive teams in the inaugural season of the Indian Super League, Chennaiyin FC have learned their lesson the hard way, having crashed out in the knock-out stages despite signing off from the league stages in pole position.

The franchise -- co-owned by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Abhishek Bachchan -- will hope for more luck this time around. The team is once again coached by Italian Marco Materazzi who has decided to retain the team’s core from last year with a few additions.
The attacking unit has been bolstered by the arrival of Fikru Teffera from Kolkata.
Coach: Marco Materazzi.
Marquee player: Elano.
Key player: Elano, Fikru Teferra.
Last year: Losing semifinalist.

FC Goa

Despite the slow start, FC Goa put up a brilliant show to finish second in the league only to lose to the eventual champions Atletico de Kolkata in the semis. However, the side led by legendary Brazilian Zico will look to challenge for the title this season, having made some valuable additions to the squad.

The arrival of former Inter Milan and Bayern Munich centre-back Lucio as the marquee player will strengthen the defence immensely. Other notable signings include strikers Reinaldo de Oliveira and Victor Simoes, goalkeeper Elinton Andrade, midfielder Leonardo da Silva Moura and youngster Jonatan Lucca. 
Coach: Zico
Marquee player: Lucio
Key player: Reinaldo de Oliveira
Last year’s placing: Losing semifinalist.

Kerala Blasters

Their run in the inaugural season was nothing short of thrilling. After managing just a solitary victory in their first five games, Kerala Blasters then put on an impressive show to qualify for the semifinal.

Their semifinal tie too was another blockbuster. After a convincing 3-0 win over Chennaiyin FC in their home leg, the Sachin Tendulkar co-owned side needed an extra-time goal from Stephen Pearson to see the Blasters through.

The final, against Atletico de Kolkata, though ended in a heartbreak for David James’ side. They, however, will be poised to better their mark in the second season.
Coach: Peter Taylor
Key player: Sandesh Jhingan
Last year’s placing: Runners-up.

Atletico de Kolkata

They say it’s one thing to rise to the top, but to stay there, shows your character. This is something defending champions Atletico de Kolkata will look to achieve when they begin their title defence on Saturday.

The Sourav Ganguly co-owned side has made valuable additions to the squad. The new marquee player Helder Postiga and Canadian Iain Hume will replace World Cupper Luis Garcia and Ethiopian Fikru Teferra in the attack. South African Sameehg Doutie is expected to bolster the midfield in the company of Spaniard Borja Fernandez.
Coach: Antonio Lopez Habas
Marquee player: Helder Postiga
Key player: Arnab Mondal
Last year’s position: Champions.

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