ISL: Tough act to follow Zico and Matterazi, say Lobera and Gregory

Coaches and players of various Indian Super League teams put forth their views on the tournament, the stiff competition, the expectations and much more.

(From left) Mumbai City FC coach Alexandre Guimaraes, Bengaluru FC coach Albert Roca, FC Goa coach Sergio Lobera, Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory, FC Pune City coach Ranko Popovic and Kerala Blasters assistant coach Thangboi Singto pose for a picture with the ISL trophy.   -  Special Arrangement


The new head coaches of Indian Super League sides FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC expressed hope that they would be able to replicate the achievements of the two World Cup-winning football legends-turned coaches Zico and Marco Matterazi.

“Substituting a legend like Zico as coach is a pleasure for me. Everyone knows his skills as a player and coach,” said FC Goa’s head coach Sergio Lobera of Spain.

“We have put together a team from scratch. I will introduce my philosophy. Winning is important, but so is the need to focus on style. We will play the short passing game,” said Lobera.

Goa had finished runner-up to Chennaiyin FC in season 2 of ISL that had eight teams. This season two more teams have been added — Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC.

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“A lot is expected of us, champions in year two and semifinalist in the first. Marco Matterazi is a tough act to follow, he’s left a big legacy,” said Gregory.

“This year we don’t have a marquee player but I still expect a successful season. The least we should be looking for is a play-off position,” he added.

Head coach of two-time I-League champions Bengaluru FC, Albert Roca, denied he was under any pressure to deliver the goods in the club’s debut year in ISL. “We are not under pressure but it’s a new challenge. We need to be humble as we are new. Players are wary of the competition,” said Spaniard Roca.

“After AFC Cup semi finals we have had lot of injuries but we are ready for ISL. All the teams in ISL are of almost equal strength,” he said.

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About the longer duration of the ISL — four months compared to two in the first three seasons — Roca said it still resembled a sprint as compared to leagues that last for 8-9 months. “It’s a longer league now, but I am used to leagues lasting 8-9 months. It’s like a sprint in athletics, everyone is concerned about it (players’ recovery time from injuries),” he remarked.

Bengaluru FC defender John Johnson said his team held a slight edge as it had the chance to blend for a longer period of time. “ISL will be of a higher standard than I-League with better facilities like playing surface. We have been together longer and it will be to our advantage,” said Johnson.

Asked whether he preferred a straight league without play-offs, Roca said he had no complaints. “It’s difficult to say. No complaints, the rules are clear. We need to be in the top four. It’s important to start well but even more important to finish well to become the champions.”

“I don’t see a problem. MLS (Major League Soccer in US) has done it 20 years. A (Australian) League does it, each to its own. ISL is its own brand, there’s no need to follow others,” said star English striker Iain Hume of Kerala Blasters.

Kerala Blasters' Iain Hume takes a selfie with (from left) John Johnson of Bengaluru FC, Bruno Filipe Tavares Pinheiro of FC Goa, Lucian Goian of Mumbai City FC, Henrique Sereno of Chennaiyin FC and Marcelo Leite Pereira of FC Pune City.   -  Special Arrangement


“Two more teams mean four more games, but the rest and recovery time is better. Over the first three years it was a tournament, now it’s turning into a league. I am guessing it will be eight month-long in future with four more teams added over the next couple of years. Then you will become an established league. With more teams more Indian players would be playing at this level which again reverts back to progress of Indian football,” said Hume.

Chennaiyin coach Gregory promised to give more time on the field for Indians and hoped they utilised it to grow as players. “The Idea is to develop our young players by putting them on the field for maximum number of time. Indian players, in particular, if they have any common sense, will give it a good shot.

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“The way ISL has developed over the last three seasons offers a great opportunity for domestic players to show they are more than capable of playing in it,” he said.

He compared the goal-poaching instincts of India striker Jeje Lalpakhlua’s to England great Alan Shearer’s. “Jeje Lalpakhlua is a natural goal scorer who reminds me of Alan Shearer. I see a lot of similarities between these two. They enjoy putting the ball over the line into the goal. We would like him to be the top scorer in ISL.”

FC Pune City coach Ranko Popovich of Serbia wished the period between two ISL seasons gets narrowed down. “The long break is a big problem. The last season ended in December and the pre-season (this time) started in September which is not good,” he felt.

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“A longer season will give us more rest period in between matches and a chance to make necessary changes. This will improve the quality of football also. We reached semi final and final and then were last, but that’s in the past. It’s about time to give the trophy to the Goa fans,” said FC Goa player Bruno Pinheiro of Portugal.

The head of Mumbai City FC, Alexandre Guimareas of Costa Rica, played down the loss of three key players — star India striker Sunil Chhetri, Sony Norde and Diago Furlon who helped them reach the semifinals last season. “It’s professional football. Sometimes what you wish is not possible. I am very satisfied with the new players.”

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