Back in March 2020, the whole world, including India, was brought to a standstill when the novel coronavirus pandemic engulfed the globe. Several walks of life, were thrown into disarray and sport, including the ISL, also bore the brunt.
To put things into perspective, the 2019-20 ISL final was held behind closed doors – an encounter that seemed strange and embodied an eerie atmosphere as ATK outwitted Chennaiyin FC in the summit clash. Post that, the Indian Premier League was suspended indefinitely, with it eventually taking place in a foreign country (UAE) during between the 19th of September and the 10th of November.
Thus, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to note that the ISL represents the first major competition to be held in India, amidst the backdrop of the pandemic – something that hasn’t just accorded the competition novelty but highlighted that the ISL is growing by leaps and bounds.
In fact, Hyderabad FC coach Manuel ‘Manolo’ Marquez echoed similar sentiments, stating that those associated with the ISL were indeed privileged to be plying their trade, although they would have to contend with the mysterious silence that would accompany empty stadiums.
“We are lucky people to be able to play the tournament. Of course, we miss out families but these kinds of things make us stronger. It is a new situation for all of us and we hope that it finishes as soon as possible. It is a pity that there are no people in the stands. But I feel it will be the same for all teams,” the Spaniard, who is making his ISL bow, commented.
With the 2020-21 ISL set to be played behind closed doors, one reckons that teams might have ample time to acclimatize themselves to the new normal, with Hyderabad FC’s challenge beginning with a tricky tussle against Odisha FC on the 23rd of November. However, Manuel ‘Manolo’ Marquez isn’t fretting too much over the opening encounter, with him stating that it might be difficult for teams to hit the ground running.
“Odisha FC have a very good coach who has a lot of experience. He was also in quarantine 10 days ago and it is not easy for him and the club. They only played a couple of friendly games and it is very difficult to know how they will perform. For that matter, it is also difficult to pin-point how we will perform as well. Maybe, as the season progresses, we will know better,” the Spaniard quipped.
Hyderabad FC finished rock bottom in the ISL last season
Last season, Hyderabad FC were by far the worst team in the ISL. They shipped in an alarming number of goals (39 in 18 games to be precise) and looked pretty toothless in attack as well (21 goals in 18 matches). To add to their woes, Marcelinho – the Brazilian who often morphed into their talisman, left for Odisha FC in the off-season, meaning that the burden has firmly shifted onto his replacement Aridane Santana, who incidentally, moved in the opposite direction.
Thus, the pre-season perhaps represented Hyderabad FC’s best chance to get in sync with the prospective obstacles of the new ISL term and get themselves in the best possible shape – something that Manuel ‘Manolo’ Marquez has placed emphasis on.
“The results of the pre-season games are not important. In all my career, I have told my players that friendly matches are another kind of training session. We have a good feeling in the team and we are building. For me, it is not important if we won or lost those games. The more vital aspect is that we arrive in the right space on Monday,” he added.
For an outfit of Hyderabad FC’s ilk, one reckons that the opening fixture could have a massive bearing on how the rest of the ISL season transpires, considering their greenhorn nature and the fact that they didn’t particularly cover themselves in glory in the ISL in 2019-20. Manuel ‘Manolo’ Marquez though, chaffed at that bit, chirping that he wouldn’t really mind the outcome against Odisha FC, as long as the team endures a successful campaign.
“It is important to start with a victory. But I personally prefer to lose the first game and win the next 19 games,” he chuckled.
Hence, Hyderabad FC might seem quietly confident that they possess a coach who knows the enormity of the task at hand but also recognizes that it might not be prudent to be too cautious.
For much of the 2019-20 ISL season, Hyderabad FC seemed a rabbit lost in the headlights and now, it is up to the Spaniard to rummage for an identity and unfurl it at the right junctures throughout a potentially fascinating ISL term.
After all, amid the empty stands and the empty stadiums in the ISL, all Manuel ‘Manolo’ Marquez wants is for Hyderabad FC to ‘arrive in the right space’ each time they take the field. And, for a side that endured more ebbs than flows in the ISL in 2019-20, that perhaps represents a good starting point.Published 21 Nov 2020, 14:11 IST