Mumbai can surprise the others

Mumbai FC finished seventh in a field of eight teams in last year’s ISL. Led by player/manager Nicolas Anelka, steps are afoot to repair the damage.

Mumbai City FC player/manager Nicolas Anelka at the Dubai pre-season training session.   -  MUMBAI CITY FC

Mumbai City FC in a friendly match against a local Dubai side.   -  MUMBAI CITY FC

Mumbai City FC and Nicolas Anelka got the shock treatment in ISL 2014, sliding to seventh out of eight places in the high-profile event. The team owners were forced to swallow their pride, resulting in the cutting down of management layers and elevating the French World Cup star to player/manager.

Anelka’s subdued approach to team building and preparation in relative obscurity in Dubai has appeared to give MCFC a sense of direction. Returning from pre-season in torrid heat, Anelka believes the team will surprise others. His confidence stems from the calibre of the players signed and pre-season form.

The fitness to retain sharpness on the pitch and punch in the level of play over three months was the basis of the work put in by the team management in Dubai. The guidance of assistant coach Oscar Bruzon, retained from the last season’s misfiring squad, was also there. Anelka believes he has the players to pull off the heist.

The form in the friendlies in Dubai and Mumbai points to Haiti striker Sony Norde, India striker Sunil Chhetri and youngster Brandon Fernandes as the players who may play influential roles when the matches begin. Anelka is a maestro in creating plays, this time he has armed the team with many options in attack and midfield.

MCFC has signed up Ireland international Darren O’Dea in the defence. He will team up with the Czech Republic’s Pavel Cmovs in a move to steady nerves in the backline which leaked 21 goals last year (as against 12 goals scored). Indian custodian Subrata Paul keeps his place in the new arrangement.

The thrust for the team will come from the midfielders, packed with known faces such as Brazilian Andre Moritz and exciting ISL debutants like Tunisian World Cup player Selim Benachour and India youth international Brandon Fernandes on whom Anelka has placed his trust.

The vastly experienced French playmaker retains the touch and vision to create goals out of nowhere, as shown last year for Mumbai City, but he may be tempted to step back into the manager’s seat and watch from the dugout a squad hand-picked by him to trouble the rivals.