Over the hill marquees once again a sideshow this ISL season
Kolkata, Nov 11 (IANS) Despite the Indian Super League (ISL) tweaking its marquee player rule this season to put more competitive footballers in the shop window, there has hardly been any improvement in the performance of these stars halfway into the ongoing tournament, say coaches and ex-internationals.
The league, in a bid to deflect criticism that ageing marquees contributed little in the first two editions, decreed ahead of the current season that a marquee footballer must possess a professional playing contract with a club until at least December 2015 and be fit enough to ply their trade in all matches.
But the script has remained virtually the same this year, with all the eight teams already playing out half of their full quota of 14 league matches before the playoffs. Even a superstar like Diego Forlan has been far from a show-stopper.
Atletico de Kolkata's marquee Helder Postiga and his Mumbai City FC counterpart Forlan -- despite scoring two goals and one goal, respectively -- have looked way below their fitness levels. Florent Malouda (Delhi Dynamos) has only shone in one match, while Didier Zokora of NorthEast United FC has so far been largely anonymous in midfield.
"Forlan, Postiga, Maolouda... when have we seen them at their peak? I don't remember any time recently," veteran Indian coach Subhash Bhowmick told IANS, dripping sarcasm.
"A few coaches like (Gianluca) Zambrotta, the NorthEast professor-like coach (Nelo Vingada) have impressed me. Also (Antonio) Habas impressed me in the last two seasons, but not the marquees. It's a farce. You need to spend good money to get top players," Bhowmick said.
Surprisingly, Mohamed Sissoko -- pencilled in for first-choice marquee Eidur Gudjohnsen who was ruled out of the tournament due to an ankle injury -- has been the most impressive for floundering FC Pune City. The second highest number of tackles won (40), makes him perhaps the only marquee a team cannot do without. Sissoko, incidentally, is the youngest of all the marquees at 31.
On the contrary, non-marquee foreigners Marcelo Pereira and Emiliano Alfaro have left a much better impression in the first six weeks of the tourney.
Pereira of the Delhi Dynamos and NorthEast United FC's Alfaro lead the individual scorers list with five strikes each against their names.
In the rear, marquees Lucio (FC Goa) and Aaron Hughes (Kerala Blasters) do not feature in the list of successful defenders while Chennaiyin FC's John Arne Riise has spent more time on the sidelines with injury. In comparison, Blasters' Cedric Hengbart (20 tackles) and Mumbai's Lucian Goian (43 tackles, the highest so far) have stolen a march.
Santosh Kashyap, assistant coach of NorthEast last season and now in charge of I-League outfit Mumbai FC, said the marquees are performing within their limitations.
"They are roped in because they are big names. They don't have age on their side and so they will have their limitations. Within their limitations, I would say they are doing well," Kashyap told IANS.
Former India defender and successful coach Subrata Bhattacharya was more severe in his comments.
"What does it mean? I don't know. By marquee I mean players of the ilk of (Lionel) Messi, Neymar or (Cristiano) Ronaldo. Playing a World Cup does not mean you are great. It's a huge canvas and these players are way over the hill."
A renowned Indian tactician of a century-old club spoke on the same lines on condition of anonymity.
"Only the organisers can tell you the basis for calling someone a marquee. To me and many others, they don't fit on the football pitch, though all of them used to at some point of time in the past."
(Debayan Mukherjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)