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Hero ISL 2016 – Mumbai City FC and FC Pune City



Mumbai City FC

diego-forlan-with-coach-alexandre-geimaraes-mti-newsWith Foran As Marquee, Mumbai City FC High On Confidence

It has not always been smooth sailing for Mumbai City FC in the Indian Super League but the Mumbai franchise has made an impressive start as it attempts to break the jinx.

For two successive years, Mumbai failed to qualify for the semi-finals of the ISL, despite being loaded with talent. In the first season, Mumbai finished seventh from among the eight participating teams and could finish only sixth last year.

The third edition of ISL has not even kicked off but it’s Mumbai City that has made news for all the right reasons and look the best bet to seal one of the four semi-final spots.

Guided by Alexandre Guimaraes, the Costa Rican coach who took his country to two World Cups, Mumbai are striking rhythm and form as evident from the fact they are unbeaten so far. In Dubai, where they had pre-season training for more than a month, Mumbai played four friendlies against tough United Arab Emirates (UAE) sides, winning two and drawing the other two.

“The team returned to Mumbai unbeaten which is a very good thing. We played some tough opponents, in really hot conditions, and the boys pulled through when needed. To be here for 35 days has really helped the team understand me and each other better. We are more prepared for the season every day,” said Mumbai coach Alexandre Guimaraes.

Mumbai have always had a big name since the inception. If Freddie Ljungberg was the star name that signed for Mumbai as marquee in the inaugural edition, Nicolas Anelka was on hand last season. This time around though Mumbai have an even bigger name in Diego Forlan, the 37 year old who took Uruguay to a fine fourth place finish at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Forlan was the joint top goal-scorer at the 2010 World Cup and it will be his ability to pluck goals from thin air that can aid Mumbai. He, however, cannot do it alone but with Gaston Sangoy, a 31 year Argentinean striker who won the Polish I Liga last season, besides him, he need not worry.

Then there is India captain Sunil Chhetri to bank upon even though he will miss a couple of games due to his commitments with Bengaluru FC in the AFC Cup.

“We are heading into the season a lot more prepared than in the past. The team has looked really good in the pre-season and Alexandre is doing some great stuff with the boys. We can see everyone put in that extra yard during practice, helping each other out, and there is a great unity within the team. We hope to carry the unbeaten pre-season spirit into the season and provide the fans with a successful ISL,” said Mumbai City CEO Indranil Das Blah.

Blah’s confidence stems not just from Mumbai’s encouraging pre-season friendlies in Dubai but also the squad that they have managed to put together. They have one of the best squad on paper and it is best dramatized in their domestic signings, picking up some of India’s best-known players.

Sunil Chhetri needs no introduction and joining him from last season is Fanai Lalchhuanmawai, also from Bengaluru FC. The new additions to the squad are tried and proven performers on the domestic circuit like Amrinder Singh, formerly with Atletico de Kolkata and among India’s most impressive goalkeepers, Jackichand Singh, Udanta Singh, Pronay Halder, Aiborlang Khongjee, Boithang Haokip and Aizawl FC captain David Lalrinmuana.

Even the foreign players that they have signed for the season are established names with plenty of international matches under their belt. It will be a pity if for some reason Mumbai City fail to make the grade again.

Image result for FC Pune logo

FC Pune City


FC Pune City were beginning to believe they can taste success this time around only to be jolted by twin injures even before they could play their first match in the Hero Indian Super League this year.

The injury to marquee player Eidur Gudjohnsen and defender Andre Bikey has somewhat pushed the team backwards. Gudjohnsen, who was with the Iceland squad at Euro 2016 where they grabbed world attention, was expected to play a star role as marquee. The former Chelsea FC and Barcelona midfielder has tons of experience and looked in good shape during their pre-season tour of Spain until an unfortunate injury cut-short his ISL journey even before it started. If that was not enough, Cameroonian defensive midfielder Andre Bikey has also been ruled out with injury.

FC Pune City’s approach to building their team for this season is in sharp contrast to the first two years. For successive years, Pune bought some of the most accomplished players that the ISL has seen but the names rarely delivered. This year, the approach was different as Pune caught hold of players who had proved themselves in previous editions of the ISL and were grooming them to shoulder the burden of expectations.

It all started right at the top with the signing of Antonio Lopez Habas as coach. Habas won the inaugural edition of ISL with Atletico de Kolkata and lost out in the semifinals against eventual winners Chennaiyin FC last season. Now he has sought a fresh challenge but can he work his magic again?

“The pre-season provided us with a chance to look at our players and work closely. We spent time ironing out any niggles, worked on players’ weaknesses and educated them about their bodies. Building match-winning fitness was the prime objective of our pre-season (in Spain),” said coach Habas.

When FC Pune City take the field for their opening match against Mumbai City FC at home on October 3, there will be a lot of familiar names. The most familiar name, though, will be right at the top as goalkeeper Edel Bete has reunited with his former coach to secure a rare hat-trick of titles. The Armenian goalkeeper won inaugural ISL with Kolkata and last year again finished as champion with Chennaiyin FC.

The familiarity does not stop there. In midfield, Habas has opted to count upon players who excelled last season. For example, Jonathan Lucca who was FC Goa’s defensive midfield star, is now at Pune, while Bruno Arias has also switched allegiance from NorthEast United to Pune.

“During pre-season, we spent time building match-winning fitness which was the prime objective. Without fitness, our tactics, team spirit and technical skill will be redundant,” said Bruno.

Habas is a tough taskmaster and it helps that he has brought along with him players who are accustomed to his style of play. Defender Augustine Fernandes and striker Izumi Arata are two fine examples, and even the new players he has handpicked like Francis Fernandes (Delhi Dynamos), Narayan Das (FC Pune City), Yumnam Raju (NorthEast United) and Sanju Pradhan (NorthEast United) are all known for their discipline, on and off the field.

“The understanding between the players as well as the philosophy of the coach was being worked upon during pre-season,” said Arata, who scored five goals for Atletico de Kolkata last season.

Habas and his players will have plenty of motivation to prove a point. They have the momentum from pre-season too and under the Spanish coach’s meticulous direction, the only way appears to be up.