PITCHING FOR INDIAN PLAYERS

Shooting straight…FC Goa head coach Zico has spoken openly against the high number of foreign nationals in the Indian Super League.-K. MURALIKUMAR

“It’s not too good to have too many foreigners playing in the Indian Super League. The minimum of five Indian players is too less. Since it’s the ISL, we have to Encourage more Indian footballers,” says Zico, the legendary Brazilian and coach of FC Goa.

Zico, one of the most iconic footballers from Brazil, has found it difficult to find a winning formula in the Indian Super League. After dropping 11 points from its first four games, FC Goa, coached by Zico, finally won its fifth match, beating Delhi Dynamos 2-1 at home.

The relieved manager was quick to express his gratitude to the football-fanatic Goan fans, who have been a pillar of support despite the poor initial results. “I thank all the FC Goa supporters for the love, encouragement and support we received through the weeks. Even when we were not winning. We can now gift them this win. It’s the first win of many,” Zico said.

The former forward, however, is not pleased with the high number of foreign nationals in the League. “In my opinion, it’s not too good to have too many foreigners playing in the ISL. The minimum of five Indian players is too less. Since it’s the ISL, we have to encourage more Indian footballers.”

The organisers, hopefully, are taking down these relevant notes to bring in the right changes for the next edition.

Reigning on Twitter

At a time when there are debates raging on whether social media swings elections or not, one area where its influence is undeniable is sport. In India, the FIFA World Cup, the Indian Premier League, the Champions League T20 are all enthusiastically tweeted about.

It’s now the turn of the ISL, and here Chennaiyin FC is the clear leader among eight teams. Till November 1, it had over 37400 mentions on Twitter — the highest. Its opening match against FC Goa has topped the charts for the second week in a row by being the most-Tweeted match of the ISL with 30057 mentions.

In fact, Chennai’s subsequent match against Kerala Blasters is the second with 17016 mentions, clearly underscoring its supremacy on the social media.

While Indian cricket captain Dhoni’s association with the team has gone a long way in building a fan base for the club, its performances on the field have proved the icing on the cake.

Ricki Herbert…“They (NEUFC supporters) have been everywhere — near the hotel, stadium, cheering for us and hopefully we will repay them.”-RITU RAJ KONAR

Greatest fan club of ’em all

“I think we have got the best fans in the tournament. Wonderful support here (in Delhi), in the last away game against Mumbai and I feel we are going to get a similar response later too. Please put in the media from our side thanking them. They have been everywhere — near the hotel, stadium, cheering for us and hopefully we will repay them.”

These were the words of Northeast United FC manager Ricki Herbert after his side had played out a goalless draw with Delhi Dynamos at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on October 29. Even though no goals were scored, the visitor’s supporters contingent displayed remarkable enthusiasm throughout the match.

FOR A CHANGE, M. S. DHONI (ABOVE) DONNED THE GOALKEEPING GLOVES AND STOOD UNDER THE BAR TO SAVE PENALTY SHOTS. HE SAVED ONE SHOT BRILLIANTLY BY DIVING TO HIS RIGHT. LATER, HE SAID: “I HAVE BEEN A GOALKEEPER IN THE SCHOOL TEAM. YES, THAT WAS LIKE 15 YEARS BACK. I STILL DO A BIT.”-PTI

The noise created by NEUFC supporters was so overpowering that some wondered which side was playing at home. Even Dynamos midfielder Hans Mulder couldn’t disagree with that. “I was joking with Bruno (Arias) before the match, seeing the number of North East fans in the stadium and thinking, that ‘Are we playing at home or away’?” said the Dutchman.

Interestingly, NEUFC plays its home games at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium as well. But the side’s venue is located in the capital city of Assam, Guwahati, and not New Delhi. However, a significantly high number of people from the north-eastern States of India reside in the national capital.

In the lead up to the game, there had been talk of Dynamos witnessing its highest attendance of the season until then. Although the numbers couldn’t be confirmed, the spectators did ensure that Delhi’s previous ISL turnout record was bettered.

Considering the passionate support given to NEUFC in the opening weeks, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the enthusiasm sustains till the end of the tournament.

‘Similar to wicket-keeping’

Mahendra Singh Dhoni neither held a cricket bat, nor kept wickets. Still, the Indian cricket captain sent the crowd at the Nehru Stadium into raptures with his mere presence during the ISL match between Chennaiyin FC and Mumbai City FC. The 19,000-odd spectators (official count) applauded every time Dhoni waved his hands. During the break, Dhoni, co-owner of Chennaiyin FC, took part in the Celebrity Charity Challenge. For a change, he donned the goalkeeping gloves and stood under the bar to save penalty shots. Dhoni saved one shot brilliantly by diving to his right.

LUNGI' DANCE, ABHISHEK BACHCHAN STYLE. the Chennaiyin FC coowner breaks into jive following his team's victory against Mumbai FC in Chennai.-PTI

Later, speaking to Starsports, Dhoni said: “I have been a goalkeeper in the school team. Yes, that was like 15 years back. I still do a bit. It is similar to wicket-keeping. I can still do a bit.”

Dhoni said football has been his primary passion. “It’s good to be back on the football field — my first love. But of course the standard is high. The players are playing good football. I hope (whole of) Chennai comes and supports the team.”

‘Bubbly Bachchan’

Abhishek Bachchan, co-owner of Chennaiyin FC, has been a constant presence during his team’s home matches. Of all the team owners, he has been the most exuberant, whistling and jumping for joy whenever his team does well. When Dhoni went around the track, Abhishek did his best to rev-up the crowd. At half-time, Abhishek wore a ‘lungi’ over his trousers while thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere. Later, he and Dhoni went to the Super Fan stand (the winners of a contest on twitter) and took ‘selfies’ with them. Late in the evening after the match against Mumbai City FC, Abhishek told the waiting media, “It was a wonderful performance. The team showed a lot of spirit.”

CHENNAIYIN FC IS THE CLEAR LEADER AMONG EIGHT TEAMS. TILL NOVEMBER 1, IT HAD OVER 37,400 MENTIONS ON TWITTER — THE HIGHEST. ITS OPENING MATCH AGAINST FC GOA HAS TOPPED THE CHARTS FOR THE SECOND WEEK IN A ROW BY BEING THE MOST-TWEETED MATCH OF THE ISL WITH 30,057 MENTIONS.

Ayon Sengupta, N. Sudarshan, Priyansh & K. Keerthivasan