I-League 2018/19: Real Kashmir FC season Preview, Squad, Probable XI, Prediction
The 12th edition of the I-League will be kicking off tomorrow. Among the 11 teams, the cynosure of all eyes will be on Real Kashmir FC, who are going to make their debut this season.
The emergence of Real Kashmir and their entry to the I-League is the most fascinating story of Indian football this year.
Formed only three years ago, Real Kashmir won the second division I-League last season and got promoted to the top flight, being the first club from the valley to do so.
The eastern part of India has been ravaged by violence and Intolerance since long. There has been little representation of their people in Indian sports. Apart from Mehrajuddin Wadoo, no one from Kashmir represented the country in football.
To promote and produce more and more footballers from the valley, Real Kashmir started their journey and within a few days, the club became hugely popular among the locals. People started thronging at the stadium during matchdays.
Real Kashmir started participating in the second division I-League. In their first season, they finished on the group stage. But in the 2017-18 season, they emerged as Champions.
Before setting their foot on I-League, Real Kashmir have already made headlines. They did their pre-season camp at Dortmund academy in Germany and played some matches with the local clubs.
They have also played five pre-season matches in Mumbai. Recently, they roped in sportswear giant Adidas as their sponsor, a first for any Indian club.
Real Kashmir FC Squad
In order to give local players a chance, Real Kashmir conducted few trials and took some talented players in their team.
Apart from that, they have also roped in some of the foreign players who plied their trade in India before.
Like Nigerian Loveday Enyinnaya, who is their captain. Enyinnaya spent his entire professional career in Indian clubs like Royal Wahingdoh, Rangdajied.
They have also acquired Bazie Armand, who played for East Bengal and Minerva Punjab last season. They picked Gnohere Kziro from Uzbek club Lokomotiv Tashkent and Aaron Katebe from Vietnamese club Nkang FC.
But the most high profile transfer would surely be Mason Robertson, who is the son of coach David Robertson. Mason left Scottish club Peterhead and signed a full contract for Real Kashmir.
Goalkeepers: Bilal Khan, Sukhwinder Singh, Ujawar Nabi Bhat and Shabir Ahamad Sheikh.
Defenders: Suhail Ahmed Bhat, Kamlesh Sanathan Nadar, Muhammad Hammad, Loveday Enyinnaya, Amir Hussain Mi, Nachiket Palav, Shahid Nazir Wani, Iklaq Fayaz, Farhan Ghani and Aaron Katebe.
Midfielders: Khalid Qayoom, Abhas Thapa, Shahnawaz Bashir, Mason Robertson, Bazie Armand, Nadong Bhutia, Suman Dutta, Amir Rehman, Mir Abdul Hanan, Ritwik Kumar Das, Ubaid Haroon and Danish Farooq Bhat.
Forwards: Atinder Mani, Gnohere Krizo, Ifham Tariq Mir, Raja Musharaf Dar, Rohit Jhamat and Brian Mascarehas.
Real Kashmir coach
Apart from the players, another important signing for Real Kashmir is their Scottish coach David Robertson, who almost quit after his first few days at the club.
The manager, who plied his trade mostly in the United States, was persuaded by the club owner to stay back for a few days and that worked wonders.
How difficult it was to adapt life in Kashmir? In a recent interview to BBC, Robertson had said, "It's taken a long time for the area to get back on its feet. There's no movies, no coffee shops, a curfew at 10 o'clock, so there's not a lot to do. There are a lot of challenges. Winters are harsh, we have power cuts three times a day, but I'm an easy going person, so you just need to find a way to get over the barriers."
Robertson finally spent a fairytale journey as his side got promoted to the top division. Now he will be facing a new challenge.
But Robertson tries to remain calm when he hears the question. “We have no expectations laid down as such and just want to take one game at a time. We'd like to compete well in our games, make sure we go in there and hold our own and after 2-3 games, we'll see how the team does and get an idea of where we can finish towards the end of the season,” Robertson replied in an interview to the AIFF website.
Real Kashmir probable XI
Sukhwinder Singh was a regular custodian in second division matches but in I-League, Bilal Khan, who is on loan from FC Pune City, is expected to take over goalkeeping duties from him.
Loveday will be at the heart of their defence along with Khalid Qayoom, with Muhammad Hamad and Abhas Thapa are expected to take the role of full-backs.
Shahnawaz Bashir and Nadong Bhutia might play as wingers. Bazie Armand and Mason Robertson will take control of the central midfield.
Danish Farooq and Ifham Tariq Mir, both of whom scored four goals in the 2nd division, will be taking the goal-scoring responsibilities.
Real Kashmir most likely will be playing in a 4-4-2 formation.
This will be their first season and nothing much can be expected from them. But considering Minerva Punjab and Aizawl FC’s performance in recent years, it is safe to say that no teams are small in I-League.
But this is also the last year for two Kolkata giants and they will give their hearts out to conquer the title. Also in the race will be Minerva Punjab FC and Neroca FC. So it will be tough for Real Kashmir to finish within the top four.