Can ISL's 'Galacticos' Delhi Dynamos improve from last season's no-show?
There has been much hype surrounding Delhi Dynamos as they enter the second edition of the Indian Super League (ISL), with even greater expectations and a far stronger squad than last season. Led by marquee player and Italian great, Alessandro Del Piero in the inaugural edition of the tournament, the side from the capital finished fifth in the standings and despite their late resurgence, the DEN Networks owned side failed to make it into the semifinals.
While 'The Lions' started their season brightly with an away draw against FC Pune City and a convincing win over Chennayin FC at home, the side failed to replicate their performances on a consistent basis, and the stuttering form of key players saw them go winless for almost a month in the tournament. There were talks of a rift between head coach Harm Van Veldhoven and Del Piero, after the latter was dropped to the bench following his substandard performances week in-week out. The forwards Martin Skuobo and Mads Junker also found life difficult upfront, and with the side registering the least attendance per game, Dynamos disappointed both on and off the field.
Though towards the end, Delhi Dynamos finally showed glimpses of what many had expected from them going into the tournament. A shift in tactics by Veldhoven saw young Gustavo Dos Santos lead the line, and the result was immediate as the side registered four wins from their final six games, which saw them take the battle of fourth spot to the final group game.
There was an air of despondency though, as the side failed to build on their encouraging start and the early season form showed by the likes of Hans Mulder, Bruno Arias, Wim Raymaekers could not continue for long. The Indian players though put in a decent shift as the likes of Anwar Ali, Shouvik Ghosh, Shylo Malswamtluanga and Francis Fernandes cemented their spot in the first team.
New coaching staff-
There will be a new face in the dugout for Delhi Dynamos as they welcome Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos to their squad as the marquee player as well as the head coach. "I will only be playing when needed. When I think we have won the game, I'll send myself in," the 42-year old said. Carlos who has been out of football for almost three years now, ever since leaving Anzhi back in 2012 added that he won't feature in his preferred left back position, but as a defensive midfielder.
The former Real Madrid star doesn't have the coaching experience of the veterans like Zico, Antonio Habas, Cesar Farias and David Platt and it would be interesting to see whether he will be able to match the tactical nous of these seasoned coaches. But despite his limited experience, Carlos is not ready to give up on the style of football he expects his side to play be it an away or a home game. "I want to entertain the fans. No supporter likes seeing a 1-0 game. If they scored five we want to score six."
Carlos who has had brief managerial stints with Turkish side Sivasspor, Akhisar Belediyespor and Russian giants Anzhi, will be hoping for a better experience this time around as none of his previous sojourns have worked out the way he would have wished for.
Alongside Carlos, will be the presence of IM Vijayan as the assistant coach. The former Indian striker is also the technical director of the club's grassroots program and will be teaming up with Shakti Chauhan in assisting the Brazilian. Nicknamed "The Golden Boy", Vijayan played in India's top division for over a decade with the likes of Dempo and East Bengal, and was well known for his goal scoring abilities.
Surprisingly, Delhi Dynamos have not retained arguably their most consistent performer from last season, Kristof Van Hout. The custodian registered the second highest clean sheets in the previous edition and was often the difference for Veldhoven's side. From last season, midfielder Mulder and forward Gustavo are the only international players to keep their position in the squad, whereas the Indian core of Anwar, Shylo, Francis, Souvik and Robert Lalthlamuana have also been retained for the second season.
There are a host of new faces in the squad, most notably of former Chelsea winger Florent Malouda and Liverpool full back John Arne Riise in the squad. Experienced goalkeeper Antonio Doblas has also been roped in alongside youngsters Adil Nabi and Richard Gadze. Serginho Greene, Chicao, Vinicius Ferrera complete the international contingent of the squad.
From the ISL auction, owner Prashant Agarwal decided to spend big on Bengaluru FC forward Robin Singh and Pune FC defender Anas Edathodika. The domestic draft saw the acquisition of Naoba Singh, Prabir Das, Gunashekhara, Z.Ralte, Sehnaj Singh and Ravi Kumar.
Once again, Dynamos have added arguably the biggest names in the tournament with the signings of Carlos, Malouda and Riise. The former Champions League winner with Liverpool, Riise has been named the captain of the side. The trio not only provide great experience but also a much needed winning mentality that was missing last season.
Florent Malouda- The former Chelsea winger is expected to play behind the striker this time around as seen from the squad's pre-season tour of Sweden. A Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup winner with Chelsea, Malouda provides the right balance in attack alongside youngsters Vinicius and Gustavo. Apart from being a great creator of goals, Malouda has a keen eye for scoring as well as seen him from his stint at England and France. With more than 80 caps to his name for France, Malouda's ability to settle in anywhere in the attack will be a much needed advantage for Carlos.
John Arne Riise- The former Liverpool star will be seen in a varied role this time around as he will be expected to co-ordinate the Dynamos defense. At 35 years of age, Riise might not hold the same pace as he did during his Liverpool days, but the Norwegian's impressive set piece ability is something a lot of fans across the country will be looking forward to. He is a natural leader and will be someone the Dynamos defense can look upto.
Other players to look out for-
Adil Nabi- Voted the best young player at West Bromwich Albion last season, Adil Nabi is expected to lead the side from the front. Already amongst the goals in pre-season, Nabi's pace and lethal finishing could see him prove to be a handful for the opposition defense. But it will be interesting to see how well he recovers from the long term injury suffered at the start of the English season.
Hans Mulder- Last season's captain and the anchorman in the midfield, Mulder will be hoping he can live upto the expectations the fans have from him after an impressive campaign last time around. The Dutch midfielder was excellent in breaking play and his impressive tackling ability saw him make the defensive midfield position his own. The 28-year old assisted when going forward as well as his impressive passing range and his shots from distance were often hard to deal with.
Robin Singh- Signed for a massive sum of 50 Lakhs, Robin Singh will be making his ISL debut with very high expectations. The Bengaluru FC forward's impressive aerial ability could see him augur well to Dynamos's style of football. His versatile nature could see him adjust as a supporting striker or even on the wings if needed. While his goal scoring ability has often been questioned, there is no denying that Robin provides great work rate and has often proved to be hard to deal with for the defenders.
Expected formation: 4-1-3-2
Expected lineup: Subhashish, Zodingliana Ralte, Riise, Anas, Souvik, Mulder, Gustavo, Malouda, Shylo, Robin, Adil