Except for champions Atletico de Kolkata, who had a strong Spanish flavour in the coaching staff and among players because of their connection with Atletico Madrid, ISL teams last season were an eclectic mix of nationalities.
This time it’s different. Foreign coaches of franchises have added players of their nationality to the roster. And like last term, Atletico de Kolkata have six Spanish players and the same coaching staff under Antonio Lopez Habas where all but one are Spanish. “We mostly recruit Spanish players because of our Spanish connection,” said Subrata Talukdar, secretary, Atletico de Kolkata.
Not just the champions, even last year’s runners-up are walking that path. Under new English coach Peter Taylor, Kerala Blasters have recruited six players who are his compatriots. And in Trevor James Morgan, they have an assistant coach who is English. A similar trend can be witnessed at FC Goa this season under Brazilian coach Zico. They have seven Brazilians on the roster. Last season, there was only Andre Santos, who has not been retained.
“Head coaches go with players they know more than others. It is not a coincidence that Zico has gone for more Brazilian players. I know UK players more than I know Portuguese or Spanish players and that is the reason. There is nothing against other nationalities. I think you end up knowing more about players you have seen in the past,” said Taylor. Asked how difficult it is for coaches to implement a playing style associated with their country given that there are players of other nationalities too, Taylor said: “I think if it’s a British style of playing I enjoy watching, I am going to have an attacking team that tries to score as many goals as possible. Certain teams in England follow that philosophy, some don’t. I am sure that’s how it is all around the world. Some teams in Brazil don’t attack as much as others,” said Taylor. “We want to implement a style which benefits all the players and not just the English players or other foreign players. We want a style of play which will help win the ISL,” said Kerala Blasters’ English defender Peter Ramage.
THE INDIAN CONNECT
he aim of the ISL is to develop Indian football. However, with teams increasingly relying on players from a specific country is that happening enough?
Godfrey Pereira, former India and Air India striker, thinks it is not. “If you field so many foreign players, how will the quality of Indian football rise?” he said. Each team can have a maximum of six foreigners on the pitch in the ISL.
Henry Menezes, CEO, Western India Football Association, said: “The ISL should be the breeding ground for Indian football. We don’t want to see the same Indian players. We need to inspire players to take up football. After the ISL, we need these young players to participate in the I-League. I-League is the structure that moves towards the Fifa goal. There is no goal after the ISL. The league is young and we need to give it time. But they need to get in young players, otherwise the purpose is lost.”
Mehtab Hossain has another perspective. Forget the nationality, if they are team players, there are collective benefits, said the former India medio who has stayed with Kerala Blasters this season. “It is going good. The Brazilians treat us like normal players,” said Jayesh Rane of Chennaiyin FC, a team which has four Brazilians.
“The team selection is done by the manager and coach. We have left it to Zico and he is responsible for the performance. Our only condition was that he includes Goan players,” said Shrinivas Dempo, co-owner of FC Goa. “At the end of the day, it is a competition and the ISL still has a long way to go in producing Indian players.”