The thrust will come from the midfielders

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

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. By Nandakumar Marar.

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.

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

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.

* * * SENIORS SHOULD SHOW THE WAY: SUNIL CHHETRI

As a senior, it is important what I can do for the younger members in the side. There is no need to constantly keep talking to them. I try to set an example, by being on time for training and doing the right things at all times. Young players are clever nowadays and don’t need to be told what to do all the time. The responsibility is on us seniors to be professional, so that they can learn watching.

Having missed the ISL last year, I wish to perform for my team. We can learn a lot from training under some top international coaches and playing with leading international players. Passing is one area where Indian players can learn, besides our understanding of the game. We are not far behind in fitness, but can always improve on these aspects. The pre-season was a learning process for all of us.

AS TOLD TO NANDAKUMAR MARAR * * *

WE HAVE A TARGET TO REACH THE PLAY-OFF: NICOLAS ANELKA

We had a fruitful pre-season in Dubai. The hot weather was very useful for us to get used to the Indian climate for the next three months. We lost one of our practice games because we tried a new system, but it was a good test since it helped us realise that we have a lot to do to be able to win games in the ISL.

I expect the team to give their best on the pitch this season. Personally, I want to give it my all on the pitch as a player when I select myself and expect the same as a manager if I have to watch the game from the bench. We have a target to reach the playoff ... After that, anything is possible.

The Dubai camp was hard work. We wanted to get ready to be the best. We have more quality than last year, in all areas. I hope we can do better. The players in the squad are cleverer, stronger this time. Football is football and I don’t want to speak too much. I would rather trust my players.

AS TOLD TO NANDAKUMAR MARAR * * * THE SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Subrata Pal, Debjit Majumder and Albino Gomes.

Defenders: Ashutosh Mehta, Kingshuk Debnath, Rowilson Rodrigues, Frantz Bertin, Keegan Pereira, Aitor, Pavel Cmovs and Darren O'Dea.

Midfielders: Cristian Bustos, Selim Benachour, Juan Aguilera, Pratesh Shirodkar, SonyNorde, Brandon Fernandes, Gabriel Fernandes, Andre Moritz, Lalchhuan Mawia, Sampath Kuttymani and Lalrindika Ralte.

Forwards: Fr�d�ric Piquionne, Sunil Chhetri, Subhash Singh and Nico-las Anelka.