Interview with Rene Mihelic: 'Delhi Dynamos as Good as Last Year's Chennaiyin FC but Unlucky'
- The Slovenian midfielder also spoke about how a longer league convinces foreign players to have a career in India
From Slovenia to Bulgaria to Hungary to Israel and, finally, India. Slovenian midfielder Rene Mihelic has come a long way to finally play in the Indian Super League. After a debut season with Chennaiyin FC where he won the title, he is now back in the country for a second stint - this time with Delhi Dynamos.
"It's very nice to be back in India and playing in the ISL," he says with a smile. "I really like playing in India and I enjoy playing here."
While he does enjoy playing in India, the same cannot be said of the Delhi Dynamos. The team is struggling at the bottom of the table with just four points from eight games. The side from the capital are also yet to win a game this season - the only team yet to do so.
"Yes, it's not good at the moment," Mihelic admits. "It's not easy when you're not winning. We still haven't won in eight games.
Delhi have the second-youngest starting XI in the league this season. New coach Josep Gombau has used 20 different players so far and their XI has an average age of 26.8 (Kerala Blasters have the youngest with an average age of 25.2).
"I think we have a good team with good players," the 30-year-old midfielder says. "We're training well and I hope that we win the next game."
That next game might just be the toughest of the lot. The Dynamos have travelled down south to take on Bengaluru FC and they are quite a contrast to Delhi. While the visitors are yet to win a game, they hosts are yet to lose a game.
Bengaluru have also played two games fewer than their opponents but have 12 points more. They have scored five more goals too.
Delhi, on the other hand, have also scored the fewest goals in the league so far. Despite putting in more than 100 crosses, they simply aren't able to convert their chances.
"Yes, we have put in a lot of crosses but we haven't scored enough from these chances," Mihelic explains. "We also need to put in better crosses into the box maybe. I hope we score more goals and take more points in the next games."
From winning the league last season to propping up the table in this season, what are the differences he sees between last season's Chennaiyin side and the Dynamos this season?
"I don't see a lot of differences between the two clubs," he says. "Yes, last season I was a champion with Chennaiyin but I think this Delhi Dynamos team can play as well as that team. But we haven't started well but I hope we will improve our results."
It was always going to take time to adapt to a new coach and his philosophy. Josep Gombau has coached Adelaide United and Western Sydney Wanderers before arriving in Delhi to take over from Miguel Angel Portugal who had a disappointing campaign where they finished eighth.
"I think we've adapted well, he's a good coach," he says. "We have some good training sessions."
Gombau is a coach that favours possession-based football. But what does he expect from the team when they step out on to the pitch?
"The coach expects us to play like an attacking team. He wants us to attack well and score goals.
"But in the last few games, we haven't had luck. We've lost games in the final minutes and that was really difficult for us. My hope is that we get a little bit more luck and win games."
That is where Mihelic hits the nail on the head. In the eight games so far, Delhi Dynamos have lost 10 points in the last 10 minutes alone. Why are they conceding so many late goals?
"In football, a lot of goals are scored between the 85th and 90th minute. This is normal because it's not easy to play 90-95 minutes. You lose a bit of power."
"You can see, a lot of goals were scored in the last five minutes. Sometimes you score and sometimes you concede late goals."
So why aren't Delhi's players able to focus for the full 90 minutes? Why does their energy drop in the final stages of the game? The pollution in the city, perhaps?
"Delhi has a lot of pollution and it's not good," Mihelic says. "But I think we've had some good training sessions. For now, it hasn't affected us."
For a well-travelled player, Mihelic had decided to continue his career in India rather than return to Europe. And he points out that a longer league now leads to longer contracts that help foreign players decide to take up a career in India.
When the ISL first started out, it was a three-month league. That has since changed since the league expanded to 10 teams and the schedule was extended to five months.
"I think this is good for Indian football. The contracts are longer and you don't need to go to another club after two-three months and start a season all over again. It's good if the league is longer."
"The ISL has improved a lot, it's a very good league. Fans are coming in for the games and every game is on TV. I was really surprised and that's why I enjoy playing in the ISL."
Will the mid-season break for the AFC Asian Cup affect a team's chances? On one hand, it could stop a winning team's momentum while, on the other hand, it could help a struggling team push the reset button. And does the fact that the schedule for the second half is not out yet affect their preparation?
"No, I think we have enough time," Mihelic explains. "We have a break in December-January and when we receive the next set of fixtures we can prepare for them."
He isn't the only Slovenian player in the league, though. Matej Poplatnik signed with Kerala Blasters and the two were in touch when the faced off against each other
"Yeah, we spoke to each other when Delhi played Kerala [Blasters]." That game had ended in a -1 draw. "He's a very good guy, a very good player. He scored again in the last game [against NorthEast United] which was good."
Delhi Dynamos take on Bengaluru FC at the Kanteerava Stadium on Monday at 19:30 IST.Published 25 Nov 2018, 18:55 IST