Freddie on recovery path

Mumbai City FC player Fredrik Ljungberg during a practice session ahead of the match against FC Pune City.-PTI

“Freddie Ljungberg (sidelined with a hamstring injury) is not ruled out completely. Obviously, we are guided by our medical staff and he’s actively training in Mumbai at the moment,” says Mumbai City FC coach Peter Reid.

Chennaiyin FC’s Elano Blumer and Altetico de Kolkata’s Luis Garcia have been the standout performers among the marquee signings of the ISL. While the Brazilian World Cup player is leading the goal-scoring charts with eight strikes, the Spaniard has been the main creative threat for Kolkata.

However, Mumbai City FC fans have been less fortunate as the team’s marquee player Freddie Ljungberg has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. The former Arsenal midfielder has featured in only one game so far and initial reports had ruled him out for the entire tournament.

But Mumbai coach Peter Reid recently revealed that Ljungberg is recovering fast and may soon take the field. “Freddie Ljungberg is not ruled out completely. Obviously, we are guided by our medical staff and he’s actively training in Mumbai at the moment,” Reid said. “Hamstring and soft tissue injuries are always difficult. So hopefully soon we should have some news about a date for his return.”

Materazzi and media

In his illustrious career, Italy’s World Cup player Marco Materazzi may have seen many top players, referees, officials and quite a few cantankerous journalists. So, when he meets the Press for the mandatory pre-match and post-match conferences, he knows what to expect. The player-manager of Chennaiyin FC handles tough questions with diplomatic answers and sometimes politely replies with “You tell me how we played.”

After the 1-1 draw with Atletico de Kolkata, a reporter from a website said, “You pressed hard and they counter-attacked.” Materazzi (he normally uses a translator) disagreed and replied, “You are a journalist, we are players,” as if to stress that journalists’ assessments don’t always match with those of the players’.

Acrobatic skills

NorthEast United FC’s T. P. Rehenesh is one of the few Indian goalkeepers drawing attention. The 21-year-old from Kerala has made everyone take notice with his acrobatic saves under the bar, stopping the likes of Alessandro del Piero (Delhi Dynamos). A day ahead of NEUFC’s match against Chennaiyin FC in Chennai, the team’s chief coach, Ricki Herbert, praised the ’keeper saying “he (Rehenesh) has been a revelation.” Rehenesh, who made his debut in the I-league with ONGC, did not disappoint his coach in the match. Though he conceded two goals, he came up with two brilliant saves. The best came midway through the first-half. A shot from Mendoza saw Rehenesh diving to his left to put it away. No wonder, he is in contention for the ‘Golden Glove’ award.

Visitors’ delight

The Balewadi Complex Stadium, although smaller in size when compared to other venues in the ISL, is a visitors’ delight. Located on the fringes of Pune, the playing arena’s compactness catches your eye instantly.

A day ahead of NEUFC's match against Chennaiyin FC in Chennai, the team's chief coach, Ricki Herbert, praised the 'keeper, T.P. Rehenesh (above), saying, "he has been a revelation."-R. RAGU

It’s especially remarkable, if you have watched your football at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi or DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai. Those two stadiums possess stands that are a bit too far from the pitch. A sense of nothingness separates the spectators and the playing area.

Hence, it’s not very easy for the home side fans to create an intimidating atmosphere there. The Delhi Dynamos’ home venue has an athletics track, like most of the ISL arenas, before the stands begin. DY Patil Stadium, in all fairness, is more conducive to watching cricket.

FC Pune City’s home in Balewadi has an athletics track too; in fact, it’s frightening to imagine the kind of noise that would have reached the pitch if the distance didn’t exist. In spite of the separation, the limited spread of the stadium brings you close to the proceedings.

Hence, fans can get involved more forcefully and make themselves seem larger than their actual number. It was a testimony to the encouragement provided by the spectators throughout Pune’s contest against NorthEast United FC that the home side kept fighting and eventually won 1-0 thanks to an 88th-minute winner. The official attendance count was 7,647. If you were to hear the sound generated by the spectators, you’d think it was close to 25,000.

Two days later, on November 5, Mumbai City FC hosted Delhi Dynamos. The result was the same, a 1-0 success for the home side. But you could have been forgiven for thinking you were attending an uptight social gathering. Despite the presence of 18,197 spectators, there was not much to hear in the name of chirp and chatter.

Interestingly, it was the smallest turnout of the season at the DY Patil Stadium until then. Even when people turn up in decent numbers, creating an atmosphere can be a problem at big stadiums. There are just too many empty spaces to fill.

For fans’ sake

A football fan in Kolkata more often than not finds himself in a livestock career if he wishes to see his favourite team play at the Salt Lake Stadium. Built on the outskirts of the city, reaching the favoured football address is incredibly difficult in the absence of regular public transport. It is even worse later in the evening, when many of the matches end. Over the years it has become common practice among the followers of the game to arrange for large or mini trucks, meant for carrying goods and often livestock, to ferry them to and from the stadium. This hardship has become part of the football lore of the city ever since the sport was shifted out of the magnificent Eden Gardens in the 1980s. As football was shepherded into a professional setup by Atletico de Kolkata (ATK), the city-based franchise of Indian Super League, the concept of giving a comfortable experience to the spectator gained precedence. “We will make our best effort to create an atmosphere where people will come and see good football with their family. Our supporters should have a comfortable experience,” said Sourav Ganguly, the former Indian cricket captain who is one of the co-owners of ATK. The resolve was quickly transformed into action as Apollo Munich, one of the sponsors of ATK, decided to “provide hassle-free transportation for the large number of football fans who come to watch ATK at Salt Lake Stadium.”

This saw a fleet of 50 comfortable and free-to-use buses dropping the fans at the nearest local transportation hub.

The Apollo Munich called it an “uncomplicated mode of transport to get home amidst traffic snarls following matches.” One can now hope for a pleasurable experience and growing support to ATK.

Ayon Sengupta, K. Keerthivasan, Priyansh & Amitabha Das Sharma