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ISL 2016’s third season curse: Why most successful coaches faltered this time

Zico and Marco Materazzi are homeward bound as ISL 2016 hits the homestretch and Antonio Lopez Habas, who won the competition with Atletico de Kolkata, would miss the semi-finals for the first time in his ISL management career.

football Updated: Dec 08, 2016 18:18 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
ISL,ISL 2016,Indian Super League
(From left) Marco Materazzi, Antonio Habas and Zico have not shown great form during this season of ISL.(Agencies)

Bela Guttmann, the great Hungarian coach, once said that the third year in management is fatal.So, is it a coincidence that successful coaches like Zico and Marco Materazzi are homeward bound as ISL 2016 hits the homestretch? Antonio Lopez Habas, who won the competition with Atletico de Kolkata, would miss the semi-finals for the first time in his Indian Super League management career.

They were the three most expensive coaches and involved in 47 games over the past three seasons: that’s over 92%. It fell apart so spectacularly that after one defeat, Materazzi said he would change 11 or 12 players and himself if he could have.

In a competition where Indians usually complement the imports, all were primarily let down by the quality of their foreigners.

FC Goa got off to a late start after developments following last year’s final. “The transition happened late in the day and we did lose some players,” said Sukhwinder Singh team CEO in an e-mail interview.

Among the Indians who left after season 2 were Narayan Das (FC Pune City), Thongkhosiem Haokip (Kerala Blasters) Pronay Halder (Mumbai City FC) and Bikramjit Singh (Atletico de Kolkata). Leo Moura, who had eight assists and two goals in 14 ISL2 appearances, then pulled out, the Brazilian apparently not being released on loan. Dudu Omagbemi moved to Chennaiyin FC and Jonatan Lucca joined FC Pune City.

Chennaiyin FC manager Marco Materazzi. ( Photo: ISL )

The replacements couldn’t fill such huge gaps even though Zico was given a free hand to recruit foreigners, most of whom were Brazilians. “The coach knows best and if you look at all the foreign signings, each player came with a great track record,” said Singh.

However, that wasn’t all.

The team’s marquee footballer Lucio, 38, could manage only 292 minutes over five games. Paul Masefield, the former Birmingham City FC player, said under-performing marquees at Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa were one of the reasons for their sub-par showing.

FC Pune City too lost marquee Eidur Gudjohnsen and defender Andrey Bikey to injury before the season started. “It’s difficult to find replacements of that quality and, most importantly, those players would have missed the pre-seasons,” said CEO Gaurav Modwel.

In Habas, they signed a coach who was banned for four of the first 14 games for misconduct when he was with Atletico de Kolkata and that did not bode well for the team. “You think long-term about building a project,” explained Modwel, adding that FC Pune City did appeal against the ban.

But for a team that had won all seven games in pre-season, FC Pune City’s tally of 12 goals in 14 games is the lowest this term. And that hurt. “We’re playing with all the forwards we have. (Dramane) Traore, (Momar) Ndoye, (Jesus) Tato, Anibal (Zurdo), but still no goals! I don’t have any more strikers…,” Habas was quoted as saying.

Like Zico and Habas, Materazzi was given a free reign. Unlike FC Goa and FC Pune City, he retained 14 players but it was those he lost that made the difference. Between them Elano Blumer, Stiven Mendoza and Bruno Pelissari scored 20 goals in ISL 2 and neither was there.

Such a gap in quality could have contributed to Chennaiyin FC losing 14 points after either leading or scoring first in six games. Against North East United FC, they led thrice through Omagbemi but the match ended 3-3. Inability to close out games could be down to tactical blunders but it also led to Materazzi frequently rotating players which perhaps contributed to the team not settling down.

Marco Materazzi has already said that he might not continue, but time will tell whether the same fate awaits for the other two or not.

First Published: Dec 08, 2016 16:52 IST