Foreign Signings in the ISL Part I – The First 5 Clubs

[Date: 03-9-2017]

So, I will be dividing the review of foreign signings into two posts. There are 10 teams, after all and every one of them has made foreign signings (Yes, even NEUTD FC…).

In this post, I will focus on Amar, Tomar, Kolkata (remember to use sarcasm tone), Kerala Blasters FC, Delhi Dynamos (haha Vogliotti), Mumbai City FC, and Northeast United FC (get someone, FFS).

From the outset, let me say that I like the business done by the previous year’s finalists, ATK and KBFC. They’ve gotten in big names and more importantly, they’ve gotten in some very effective players. The dark horse in this group will be Delhi Dynamos. Even with the Vogliotti faux-glioti fiasco, their objective of playing the South American brand of football interests me. I want to see how it works in India particularly considering our climate. Let’s go then.

Amar, Tomar, Kolkata (SHEESH!)

Once again, it seems that ATK will be on the forefront of big name dealings. They’ve shown their premium pedigree since the inception of the Indian Super League by signing players such as Luis Garcis (2014) and Helder Postiga (2015 & 2016). They’ve already laid down the gauntlet for the upcoming season. Here are the highlights.

Teddy Sheringham

No, he’s not going to start playing again. If you believed that, then frankly you’ll believe anything. That and you don’t know jack about football. Teddy Sheringham was a tremendous player but he’s positively a geriatric specimen now.

He turned 51 this year which means (bulbs turned on), he will be the manager of ATK in the upcoming season. He hasn’t been a great manager. As a matter of fact, he’s been woeful for the single team he has managed in his career – Stevenage.

Under his tutelage, Stevenage had a win percentage of only 21.2. What he’s going to achieve as the manager of ATK, I’ll let you decide.

Robbie Keane

I will never understand ISL clubs’ penchant for signing over the hill players. I get the marketing value but these players are, more often than not, injured and that includes my favourite Robert Pires. Robbie Keane, at the best of times, was a speed merchant.

His pace and agility were his greatest assets. He was never that creative as far as I remember, except when he was celebrating his goals – those summersaults ending with multiple airguns will be perfect when he attends the weddings of his Haryanwi team mates. Pew! Pew! Pew!

Don’t think he’ll make that much of a difference in the league. He’s a spent force and this will be more of a holiday for him than competitive football.

Zequinha

Zequinha’s, or as his mommy called him Jose Egas Dos Santos Branco, claim to fame is that he played the 2007 World Cup for Portugal. What’s that? There wasn’t a world cup in 2007? But, there was my dear Watson – the U-20 World Cup. Zequinha was one of the forwards for Portugal.

He played all four games for his team without scoring. His claim to fame inside of that tournament was that he confiscated a referee’s red card with (I’m thinking) the intention to chuck it. Maybe he thought he was Gambit! The referee, unfortunately, was Wolverine who threw him out of the game.

Zequinha will be an inside winger or even a squad player for ATK, especially with Robin Singh also in the fold.

Jussi Jääskeläinen

Apparently, ATK were trying to sign Shay Given. However, someone came to them and told them about an even bigger geriatric specimen than Given. Enter Jussi Jääskeläinen. I think Ganguly Dada must be having a midlife crisis. This crisis is forcing him to try and show the world that even +40 year olds can play professional sport. If one of his acquisitions succeed, then I think he’ll apply to BCCI for the Captain’s role. He can cite, “look that 40 years old worked, why can’t I? Sheesh.

Seriously though, there’s no denying the quality of Jääskeläinen but that was a few years ago. Jääskeläinen is now, would you believe it, 42! He has droves of experience but I doubt he’s left with many functioning muscles. Goalkeepers need to be agile not throughout the game but at intervals. In fact, they need explosive agility for their vertical and horizontal leaps. I don’t know how effective Jääskeläinen is going to be. We’ll only have to watch whether “hamari Jussi” has the cahoonas still.

Teddy’s appointment as the chief at ATK has resulted in ATK focusing more on players from the British Isles as against their previous penchant for Spanish players. The earlier inclination was due to the Atletico De Madrid connection and we already know how that has been left behind.

Kerala Blasters FC

If ATK has a nemesis, it is KBFC. It is fitting too if you consider that Sourav Ganguly is a minor ATK shareholder while Sachin Tendulkar is the majority stakeholder in KBFC. The two former Indian openers are still trying to better each other it seems. This time out, though, Ganguly, is getting the better of Sachin. KBFC has made it to 2 finals in the 3 season history of ISL. Both times, they lost to ATK. Dada’s should have the last laugh pat by now.

KBFC’s dealings before the 2017 season are as impressive as ATK’s. They’ve got in some really great players and it could be said that they’re going to be in better shape than ATK this time out. KBFC will have a very strong Manchester United connection this season. This is not only a good move footballistically but also marketing wise. Manchester United is a club that has tremendous following in India. KBFC must be hoping that their connection to Man U will get these fans over to their side. From the on-field perspective, this is good because even over the hill Manchester United players are going to add value to their squad. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Rene Meulensteen

The first of their Man U connection is the Head Coach. Rene Meulensteen worked under the legendary Alex Ferguson. He must’ve imbibed a lot of football knowledge from that man. Heck, even if Fergie didn’t speak to Meulee in all his time there, he would’ve gotten some tips. Fergie must breathe out football tips with each breath. Meulee could’ve just sniffed the loo after Fergie’s visit and gained some key tactics and strategies.

At the very least, Meulee (yes, that’s what I’ll call him from now on) is using his interpersonal Man U connections to bring in players. Which players? Let’s see.

Dimitar Berbatov

While Berbatov isn’t Meulee’s first signing, he is easily his most high profile signing. I do hope, though, that Meulee tested Berbatov’s physical condition before signing him up. It’s been more than a full season since Berbatov played professional football. Even if he’s a little unfit, it won’t matter but he needs to be fit enough to play at least 50% of the time KBFC spends on the pitch.

At 36 years old, he would have lost stamina and mobility both but he never relied on them in the first place. Berba was never a mobile frontman. His best attribute was intelligence and technical skill. He has good ball control. He’s what I call a smart mover as opposed to a fast mover. In fact, Berbatov would be invisible in many of his games before suddenly popping up and getting a goal or delivering an assist with a sublime piece of skill.

Moreover, he’s never really had a fallow period in terms of goals. His strike rate has been very good at all the teams too. I look forward to seeing him play.

Iain Hume

While not as big a name as the Bulgarian, Hume will be far more involved on the pitch. This is the Return of the King with Hume reprising the role of a bald Aragorn. Why is he the king? Do you realise that he’s the all-time goal scorer in the league? Not only has it scored the most goals, his per-season average is tremendous too. He scores more than 7.5 goals per season. If he maintains that average this season, he’ll definitely take KBFC to the semis, at least.

Wes Brown

The third flag bearer of the Man U-KBFC connection is Wes Brown. Wes Brown is also a high profile name having played 232 times for Man UTD and 23 times for the England National Team. Brown even has some coaching credentials since he’s been coaching kids at Blackburn Rovers’ academy. I expect him to assist Meulee quite heavily in that department. This could be one of the main reasons why Meulee wanted Brown at KBFC. Brown will be the primary central defender for KBFC although he can play right back also.

Brown is often remembered for his musical career, the highlight of which was a man dressed in a flowing gown singing in an obscure language (90s kids will know). I hope Brown scores a goal in the upcoming season. I would love to see him celebrate the goal with the words:

“Alanné mba yi woma wé

Ho tou sondé

Ho ma yé”

Delhi Dynamos FC

If my father was alive today, I’m pretty certain he would be supporting Delhi Dynamos FC. You see, he liked the South American brand of football and Delhi Dynamos seemed to have strategically decided to get those types of players only. They’ve already brought in a Brazilian, an Uruguayan, a Venezuelan, and nearly got the Argentine (Vogliotti did a massive KLPD for them couched in uber polite Twitter message). That’s nearly 4 out of 5! They just need a Columbian now. What better way to announce that you’ll be playing South American brand of football, eh?

It makes sense in a way because the Indian climate is much more similar to South American climate than European climate. Countries in South America generally have temperatures ranging between 20 and 45 degrees Celsius. Their brand of football is also similar to what we traditionally see in India. As a result, you can expect Delhi’s acquisitions to do well. Here are the highlights.

Gabriel Cichero

At the time of writing, the latest DD signing was Gabriel Cichero. In my opinion, he is also the most crucial of the 3 already signed simply because he has the most experience.  He isn’t too old either at 33 years. Since he’ll be playing either central defence or full back, age shouldn’t be that much of a problem either. He is currently a Venezuelan international which brings with it, its own prestige and experience. I expect him to be commanding for the blues.

Paulinho Dias

Paulinho Dias is your traditional Defensive Midfield General. He is only 29, which means that he’ll have the stamina to cope with the rigour of the Indian Super League. He has a keen understanding of space in midfield and uses it to good effect whether in front of his own or opponent’s defence. Even though he’s a bit of an unknown quantity, I expect him to be a consistent performer. Look to see his passing skills as I have a feeling that they will be simple.

Matias Mirabaje

Defence, check! Defensive midfield, check! Attacking midfield, here we go… The South American spine of Delhi Dynamos is completed by the Uruguayan. Mirabaje represents Uruguay in the South American outfit Delhi Dynamos. The attacking midfielder is a winner in his own right. Copa Libertadores is a real cup, regardless of what media imply, and he won it in 2014. Mirabaje is 28, which is just about the right age for an attacking midfielder IMHO. Why? It’s because, according to me, an attacking midfielder needs to be mobile to be successful. Static attacking midfielders rarely ever succeed. Even the uber slow David Silva is agile when it comes to changing directions on the ball.

Mumbai City FC

MCFC’s moves before the 2017 ISL season point at one thing and one thing alone – consolidation. It has all been about keeping the successful team of 2016 together while trying to add missing pieces. To this end, a large part of their transfer dealings have been about retention rather than acquisition.

Considering their pre-2017 season strategy, it isn’t surprising that their best dealings have been about bringing back successful players from the previous season. Having said that, I should mention that they have signed four new players. Here are the highlights.

Retention

MCFC have retained all their influential foreigners from last year. Lucian Goian, Gerson Vieira, and Leo Costa have all decided to come back and join MCFC with Diego Forlan considering a return too. Goian will lead their defence as ever, Vieira can be expected to feature in midfield, while Costa will dominate the attacking numbers like last time.

If Forlan returns, then he will reignite his understanding with Costa while trying to work with the new striker. It almost seems like a case of unfinished business for MCFC players. They did, after all, topped the league last time out only to lose to ATK in the semis.

Rafa Jorda

Speaking of the new striker… welcome Rafa Jorda. Jorda is a monster of a striker who dominates defenders with his size and strength. He is your traditional target man. You can also call him the Spanish Crouch if you want because that is just how he plays. I don’t know what Guimares is planning for his team because they didn’t do the wing-cross-lumbering forward game. If he plans on changing his team’s style of play, I expect it to fall flat.

Marcio Rosario

MCFC had the best defence last season by a long mile. They’ve kept the essence of that defence together in Goian but they still needed to strengthen it a little. This is probably why they’ve brought in Rosario, an aggressive defender who specialises in tight marking.

Everton Santos

Santos is also a forward but he’s more of an inside forward. In fact, I would rather see him as an attacking midfielder than a forward. Santos is mobile and is very quick to react to situations. I expect him to complement Costa from the wings. Also, he’s only 30 so I won’t worry about his stamina too much.

Achille Emana

Emana has the World Cup on his resume. No, he didn’t win it. If he had, you would’ve probably known about him. Instead, he played for Cameroon in two losses of the group stage at the tournament. This is probably why you haven’t heard of him till now.

Having said that though, participation in a World Cup puts him in some really elite company as far as the ISL goes. Here are others big World Cup names who have played in the ISL.

  • Spain: Luis Garcia, Joan Capdevilla, and Carlos Marchena
  • France: Florent Malouda, Robert Pires, David Trezeguet, and Nicolas Anelka
  • Brazil: Lucio, Elano, and Roberto Carlos
  • Italy: Alessandro Del Pierro, Alessandro Nesta, and Marco Materazzi, and
  • A bevy of others such as David James, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Fredrik Ljungberg, Diego Forlan, and Robbie Keane.

If Achille Emana, the experienced midfielder/winger, manages the same feats as these guys, his signing would be a massive success.

Northeast United FC

NEUTD FC is probably the noblest team in the league. This means that the fans of the Highlanders can forget about them winning the league. Hope springs eternal, though, so most of you fans probably think that your team will pull a Leicester City or the older ones will wish for a Nottingham Forest from your team. To be honest, I’m with you lot.

I would love for NEUTD FC to win the league on the back of their North-eastern backbone. Nothing is more satisfying than the underdog winning everything purely on the back of talent and hard work. I’m only focusing on foreigners in this post and guess what; after so long they’ve managed to get one. More exciting, though, is a reliable rumour, so I’ll talk about that first.

Marcinho

You can tell that NEUTD FC are operating from a position of scarcity. They’re considering a playmaker from Brazil (there are a gazillion of those out there) but they’re picking out the cheaper, less popular option. You know that there are better players out there but such is the state of NEUTD FC coffers that they can’t really go for them.

Marcinho will no doubt try very hard and might even make an impact but the fact that NEUTD FC are about to sign him reveals why they haven’t done well in the league till now.

Sambinha

So, the mainstream media would have you believe that Northeast United FC has signed a Portuguese. I don’t know where these new-age journalists get their information from but Sambinha is a Guinea-Bissauan. The mistake could be because Sambinha, or Mamadu Samba Cande, has been in Portugal from a very young age.

While Sambinha may hold a Portuguese passport, in footballing parlance, he’s a Guinea-Bissauan because that’s the country he has represented in international football. Guinea-Bissau, by the way, is a teeny-tiny country located on the western most tip of the African continent.

Sambinha is a young player. He’s only 24 years old. He’s a towering centre back who will, most probably, walk into the NEUTD back line because of the manager. This transfer seems to be based personal knowledge and connections. NEUTD FC’s new head coach is Portuguese, Joao Carlos Pires de Deus. Let’s see how this one will pan out.

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