Can a team of stars be the star team?

Nicolas Anelka... wearing two hats.-H.VIBHU

Nicolas Anelka, a former World Cup star from France, has a team of his choice, and it’s important that he ensures Mumbai City FC delivers on its promise. By Nandakumar Marar.

Mumbai City FC confirmed Nicolas Anelka as player-cum-manager for ISL 2015. The player had sought more responsibility, and the Mumbai team in one stroke knocked off the Head Coach post, giving the football icon a major say in the decisions of the franchise — from player selection to team preparation. Oscar Bruzon retained his place as assistant coach.

Anelka was not present at the Player Auction and Draft, where Mumbai City was the only franchise to show serious interest in bidding for the crowd-puller, Sunil Chhetri. The Mumbai City FC co-owner, Ranbir Kapoor, was surprised at the ease with which his team picked its marked man, Chhetri. Seven domestic players were added in the draft.

Anelka, however, was in the loop right through. The France World Cup star had discussions with the management last season itself and it was only a question of firming up the deal. “Whether he is playing or not, whether the team was up or down, Anelka was a fantastic motivator, giving advice to the coach and boosting his Indian colleagues. He wanted to return and take on a more active role in Mumbai City FC, and we jumped at the offer,” said the CEO, Indranil Blah.

Mumbai City FC is planning a pre-season preparation in Europe. “Our plan is to have foreign players as the spine of the team, with the wide positions occupied by Indian players,” said Blah.

Chhetri is the costliest Indian signing at Rs. 1.20 crore. The highly rated Goan midfielder, Brandon Fernandes, was acquired for Rs. 21 lakh in the draft. Goalkeeper Subrata Paul, playmaker Lalrindika Ralte and striker Subhash Singh were retained by the franchise.

Anelka’s masterclass with the ball and passing helped the pacy Indian striker, Subhash, to hustle defences on the counterattack. Sony Norde from Haiti can keep the rival backline busy, allowing tricky Chhetri or young Gabriel Fernandes to sneak through for shots at target.

Mumbai City is looking for another top-class striker to team up with Norde. Five foreigners have joined (including Anelka) and four more are to follow. Marquee signing Fredrik Ljungberg (injury) and Bundesliga defender Manuel Friedrich are missing from last year’s list. Last season, the Swedish midfielder was not on the field long enough to display his wares known to the Premier League fans.

Friedrich’s colleague last year, Pavel Cmovs has been signed once again and he will be in the central defence. Ireland’s Darren O’Dea is the team’s second foreign defender. Mumbai City’s backline let in too many goals last season, annulling the efforts of its forward-line. Chhetri’s assertion that defeats in the past need to be forgotten is wise thinking, and the star-studded squad has to deliver on its promise.

Anelka has a squad of his choice, unlike Peter Reid last year. Reid took over the reins of Mumbai City FC only after the player signings and had little time to understand his players’ strengths and weaknesses.