Running out of charge

While many theories exist to explain Delhi Dynamos’ lean patch, the focus on lesser preparation and recovery time available to the franchise has remained understated. As this factor exists for every team, this cannot be used as an excuse to explain away a side’s troubles.

A side’s prospects in the Indian Super League can change very frequently. With matches marked by a drop in quality as the tournament progresses, there is very little to separate the teams. Delhi Dynamos, despite finding itself at the bottom with seven points from eight games, was only four points behind a semifinal spot.

Dynamos’ experiences in the inaugural season have been somewhat reflective of the ISL’s first journey into the landscape of Indian football. It started with a bang, but then tailed away during the middle stages. Obviously, the fall suffered by Dynamos has been much sharper.

When the side from the national capital thrashed Chennaiyin FC 4-1 at home on October 25, it was expected to feature among the leading lights of the competition. Instead, the victory over Chennaiyin represented a crest that the Delhi outfit has not witnessed again.

While many theories exist to explain Dynamos’ lean patch, the focus on lesser preparation and recovery time available to the franchise has remained understated. As this factor exists for every team, this cannot be used as an excuse to explain away a side’s troubles.

However, it is vital to acknowledge its significance, as one seeks to understand the drop in quality across the league. Many managers and players have spoken about the difficulty of adapting to these conditions.

Yet some have adapted better than others, and much to the chagrin of those who have invested financially and emotionally in Dynamos, their side is not one of those teams.

As the ISL has put greater demands on body and personnel, Harm van Veldhoven’s team has lost its high-energy attacking football verve to a staid version that is painfully shorn of creativity. The head coach of Dynamos acknowledged the lack of quality and spirit shown by his charges in their 1-4 loss at home to FC Goa and had only one wish thereafter: “I hope my boys fight till the end and give everything.”

Goals dry up

The ISL started with a bang on October 12, with Atletico de Kolkata trouncing Mumbai City FC 3-0 at the Salt Lake Stadium.

Sixty-eight goals have been scored in the first 32 games of the 61-match League, at a healthy average of 2.125 goals per game. Chennaiyin FC has been the most prolific among the eight franchisees, netting 14 strikes in eight matches, closely followed by Kolkata (11 from eight). The two teams, hence, deservedly occupy the top slots of the League.

Kerala Blasters (five) and NorthEast United (six), however, are yet to hit the optimal goal-scoring form, managing only 11 goals between them in their eight games. There have been seven goalless draws — so far — and five of them have come between matches 26 to 32.

The close proximity of games might be a reason behind this sudden lull in form, as players and coaches alike have expressed their displeasure about the League’s “close scheduling”. Teams play, at times, three games a week, leaving little time for recovery between matches.

Growing in popularity

The ISL, with all its hype and hoopla, has managed a soccer revolution in the country. The almost daily football show has replaced sitcoms as the popular choice of entertainment in many Indian households, with the first three weeks of the inaugural edition drawing more than 275 million viewers.

About 74.7 million people witnessed the first day’s action — 12 times more than the inaugural day figure of 6.3 million in India for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

“The early success of the Hero Indian Super League has been phenomenal, as millions of fans have thronged to watch the action,” the Star India CEO, Uday Shankar, said. “This is a historic moment in the era of sports in India, as fans embrace the global game and see a quality of football never witnessed before in India.”

In stadia attendances too have been mostly high with an average footfall of 22,639 each game. The figure makes the ISL the best-attended League in Asia, way ahead of China’s CSL, Japan’s J-League or South Korea’s K-League.

Even worldwide, the ISL is ranked fifth in spectator attendance, right behind Europe’s big four — Bundesliga, English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A.

Chennaiyin’s secret weapon

Abhishek Bachchan-backed Chennaiyin FC has surprised many with its attacking play, despite having a tough-tackling former Italian World Cup-winning defender as its coach.

Brazilian Elano Blumer, easily the most influential player in the League till date, has been the creative fulcrum for the South Indian side, and has already scored against every opposition in the ISL. Giving the Brazilian perfect company is another Latino, Colombian John Stiven Mendoza. The 22-year-old former Colombian youth international has troubled rival defences with his pace and has scored three goals in eight appearances.

The team, though, apparently has another trump card in the pacy Brazilian winger, Bruno Pelissari. The 21-year-old attacking midfielder, a product of Brazilian club Paranaense’s academy, had featured in the early games for the Chennai side and members of the team management rate him even higher than Chennaiyin’s favourite ‘Pocket Rocket’ (a name given to Mendoza by the team’s co-owner Bachchan Junior).

“Bruno’s touch reminds you about everything that is good about Brazilian football,” says a staff of the franchise. “He feints, he dodges and he has the typical meandering run that can take defenders out of the equation.”

Coach Marco Materazzi, who thus far has used the Brazilian sparingly, also admitted Pelissari’s class ahead of the away tie against Atletico de Kolkata. Pelissari, so, is sure to get his chance soon as teams try to rotate the playing XI to keep the squad fresh. Player rotation might be the key to this closely-packed League, and Chennaiyin has rightly kept a secret weapon wrapped, ready to be unleashed on tired opponents.

Priyansh & Ayon Sengupta