When Hyderabad FC beat Neroca FC 3-0 at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal on Tuesday, it looked like just another day at the office for the Nizams.
Joel Chianese opened the scoring for HFC and Bartholomew Ogbeche doubled the lead before the 18-minute mark.
The Nigerian – who won the Golden Boot in the previous Indian Super League (ISL) season – doubled his tally in the second half to go on top of the list of top scorers in the 2022 Durand Cup.
Hyderabad FC head coach Manolo Marquez – whose side qualified for the quarterfinals with the win – however, feels Indian football will grow if the competitions are mixed in a calendar, instead of organising them separately over a year.
“ If you want the development of Indian football, you can’t be 6-7 or 8 months in off-season. It is practically impossible.”Manolo Maquez on a longer football season
“I am from Spain and there, football is like a religion. In India – in my opinion – it would be good if you can mix the competitions,” said Manolo, who led Hyderabad FC to its maiden ISL Championship in March this year.
“It would be good if you could play some games from a Super Cup in the middle of ISL, for example. It will be better for the competition because after ISL, usually, in the two editions of Super Cup, if you look at the scores and results, some ISL clubs are not too interested in this competition,” he added.
The Indian football calendar has already undergone an expansion this year, starting from August 2022 and going up to May 2023 in accordance with the rules of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
The AFC mandates the ISL clubs to play at least 27 games to be eligible to play in the AFC competitions (AFC Cup and AFC Champions League).
According to the extended calendar, the Durand Cup is supposed to happen from August 13-September 24 and will be followed by the ISL (October 6-March 18) and, the Hero Super Cup (April 1-May 14)
Several ISL teams fielding their B teams ‘a problem’
Hyderabad FC has been drawn in Group C, alongside two-time ISL Champion Chennaiyin FC, Army Red Football Team and Manipuri sides Trau FC and Neroca FC.
“There are a lot of teams that said they will not play with the main team... the rule is not the same for everyone.”Manolo Marquez on teams naming reserve squads for Durand Cup
This is the second appearance of the Nizams in the oldest football tournament in Asia.
Last year, HFC – comprising a mixture of first team and reserve team players – had made its debut in the Durand Cup and, after losses to Gokulam Kerala FC and Army Red Football Team, was eliminated in the group stage.
This time, it is one of the few ISL sides to start its first team, alongside teams such as Mumbai City FC, ATK Mohun Bagan and Chennaiyin FC, in the Durand Cup.
On the other hand, FC Goa – the defending champion of the Durand Cup, Jamshedpur FC – the winner of the ISL League Winners’ Shield – and Kerala Blasters – ISL finalist last season – have all chosen to go with reserve squads.
“There are a lot of teams that said they will not play with the main team. But the rule says that we have to play 27-28 games. Then if they send the B team, the rule is not the same for everyone,” said Manolo.
The decision to field reserve teams by the ISL clubs in the Durand Cup looks like a deliberate strategy.
FC Goa, despite starting its first team last time, saw several of its players – Jorge Ortiz, Muhammed Nemil and Brandon Fernandes – pick injuries during the tournament and ended its ISL campaign third from the bottom with 19 points from 20 games.
“This is a problem,” said Manolo, “I think, not the clubs, the organization has to decide whether all the teams will go with the main team.”
‘Indian players have a lot of quality’
The ISL 2021-22 season saw the highest number of Indian goal scorers ever in ISL.
In the eight years of the league’s inception, the number of overseas goalscorers increased from 44 to 56, while that of India increased from 20 to 61 – a 200 per cent increase as compared to a mere 30 per cent in the case of foreigners.
“They have a lot of quality,” said Manolo, “We have had a lot of good Indian players – Asish (Asish Rai), Akash (Akash Mishra), Sana (Chinglesana Singh), Liston (Liston Colaco), Hitesh (Hitesh Sharma), Yasir (Mohammad Yasir) ... That was the beginning of Rohit Danu too.”
“I remember that when I arrived (in ISL), they used to say, this player is very good but when I saw the player, for me he is a normal player because. In 7-8 months, a lot of things can happen and the opposite. When I arrived, some players – to others – seemed like normal players, but for me, they were very good players,” said Manolo.
Several members of the HFC squad that Manolo started with, in 2020, have gone on to become important members of the Indian team.
While Colaco finished the ISL 2021-22 season as the highest Indian goal scorer (8 goals), Akash Mishra was one of the most prominent players for India in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers as India made it to its second successive Asian Cup for the first time.
“There are some positions that you have to reduce the foreigners if you want to improve in Indian football,” Manolo added.
“I think that we have very good young players, but always there is a beginning for everyone. They play with a lot of confidence and I think an ordinary player with confidence is better than a very good player without.”
Hyderabad FC sits on top of Group D and has secured its qualification for the quarterfinals of the Durand Cup.
“We will be a very competitive side and difficult side to beat,” he said.
Having won the first silverware in Hyderabad FC’s history, the Catalan gaffer will look to steer the club to another Indian title before its title defence in the ISL begins in October.
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