Hyderabad FC has a new boss, Irishman Conor Nestor. The 39-year-old from Limerick in western Ireland replaces Spaniard Manolo Marquez, who moved to FC Goa.
Nestor has his task cut out. Under Marquez, Hyderabad FC became Indian Super League (ISL) champion in 2021-22. The success came in barely two seasons (2019-20) after the team finished at the bottom of the league.
Marquez’s stint was as much about player development as it was about winning. Along with Marquez’s exit, Hyderabad FC has also seen several key players move on.
Nestor, with a wealth of coaching experience, joins the Nizams as the First Team coach alongside head coach Thangboi Singto and assistant coach Shameel Chenbakath.
A new chapter
Conor comes with a reputation of grooming young players and building sustainable sides.
“When I come somewhere, I just don’t try and scrap everything up and start again. I really appreciate what has happened before, the organisation of the team before was exceptional and the team’s attitude to fight till the very end are the things you certainly don’t want to change and have to keep those core values,” Conor tells Sportstar in an exclusive interaction.
A former development officer at FA Ireland, Conor guided Svay Rieng to the Cambodian Championship in 2019. Having inked a two-year deal with Hyderabad, he envisages a bright future.
“I came here with great excitement because I studied the players and the team a lot. I really believe in the potential of the players. After meeting with them, it only reignited that excitement and the belief in the potential of the players and the club. I don’t compare myself with others. Every coach wants to put their stamp on a project, on a football club, on a group of players, and for me, I am very clear in what I believe on the field and will take a step-by-step approach,” he says.
The first meeting
Conor was quick to put his arm around the shoulders of young footballers as the new-look Hyderabad squad assembled at the club’s training facility in Aziz Nagar.
In the training sessions that kicked off a few days ago, a few players caught the coach’s attention.
“The training session has been good. Some have played a lot and are well-known and some haven’t played much, but I can see the potential. People often say that coaches give chance to young players but it is not something I believe in. The player has to earn the opportunity and then ensure the coach is brave enough to go with youth rather than experience. Young players will make mistakes but we also don’t know the limit of young players. This is what excites me about this young group,” Conor says.
Durand Cup preparations
Conor’s first assignment as coach of Hyderabad will be the Durand Cup that started on Thursday. Hyderabad is in Group E alongside Chennaiyin FC, Delhi FC and Tribhuvan Army Club. The Deccan side will take on Delhi in its first match on August 6.
Conor offers an honest assessment. “The Durand Cup has come a bit too soon for us. We just had four training sessions and will probably get four more squeezed in. This is not probably what HFC supporters want to hear and certainly not in my nature generally to use a competitive competition as a warm-up, but it’s unavoidable. For now, the Durand is going to be a process of analysing performances, for physical preparation so that we are close to the peak as possible when the ISL starts in September,” he says.
Conor on new signings
Hyderabad has new players in Jonathan Moya, Joe Knowles, Petteri Pennanen, Vignesh Dakshinamurthy, Makan Chote and Aaryan Saroha, while losing key players Akash Mishra, Halicharan Narzary, Rohit Danu, Javier Siverio, Borja Herrera and Joel Chianese.
Conor is happy with the signings and expects the new-look squad to play as a unit.
“Obviously, there are seven to eight players who were part of that history (ISL winning team) but have gone elsewhere and we have brought in new players. So, it’s very much a new chapter in a new direction. No coach wants to see massive changes and ideally, the changes won’t be as dramatic as they are.
“To be fair during the recruitment process for bringing me here, the club was very honest and open. They told me which players would be going out and other internal matters and I came in with my eyes wide open in terms of the project. I knew there would be sort of a big rebuild in terms of recruiting new players and it’s a complete staff effort in bringing in the new players and we have got a stronger team this season,” says Conor.
Conor wants to build a team that lasts long after he is gone.
“The club sold the project very well and it’s very much aligned to my DNA as a coach, which is about developing young players and building the whole club, and most importantly trying to win also. My role is to try and build a style of play in the club that we can continue year after year. That’s important because when it comes to football, I believe in building something that’s going to last long after you are gone.”
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