Foreign Signings in the ISL Part II – The Other 5 Clubs

[As of 03-09-2017]

This is the second group and it includes FC Pune City, Chennaiyin FC, FC Goa, Jamshedpur FC, and Bengaluru FC. In this group, I feel that FC Pune City will do well. Why? It’s because I like their signings so far, their coach has grown on me over the past three seasons, and their transfer business is, by no means, complete for this season.

Goa should also be interesting to watch as they try to ditch the green and yellow motif (Brazil) for the red and yellow insignia (Spain). Intros are fluff. Let’s get down to the meat of the post.

FC Pune City

If NEUTD FC has a dismal record in the history of ISL, FCPC isn’t far behind. These are the only two teams never to have gone beyond the league phase. FCPC, however, have done better than NEUTD FC when it comes to staff and players. They have the most successful coach in the league along with a number of big name signings.

Unfortunately, even though FCPC looked good on account of their early 2017 wheeling and dealing, they seemed to have shot themselves in the foot recently. This suicidal action concerned their most successful dealing of the pre-season i.e. their coach. Here are the highlights.

Habas the Henchman

Remember, Habas the Henchman? He’s only the most successful coach in the league. He was signed by FCPC fairly early on the merit of this decision you could’ve said that they’ve turned a corner. Unfortunately, they’ve now gone and offended the mad crystal meth character from Breaking Bad and we all know that never ends well.

Apparently, the brass in their ivory towers felt that they knew better than the best coach in the league. The trouble began at the draft. Habas had a strategy, the board had a strategy, the strategies didn’t meet but the Board decided to go behind the coach’s back. They signed up players that Habas didn’t want and didn’t sign players that he did want. Result: Bust up.

It’s all still milling in the rumour mill but this is the gist of it. The club have since come out and said that their relationship with Habas the Henchman is perfectly pristine. Habas has not denied that he’s gunning for the board but he has also kept mum about his side.

If you don’t have a satisfied coach, then even the best players can’t save your team… well, it’s just a saying. I’m sure Messi and Ronaldo can make a difference without a coach. I was just trying to make a point. Trouble in pre-season is never a good thing. Prediction: FCPC to stink up all kinds of stinks in the 2017 season.

Marcelinho

Apart from Habas, the best FCPC deal of the pre-season is Marcelinho. I don’t have to tell you that I’m a big fan of this guy. He’s got everything I want a footballer to have. He scored 10 goals and dished out 5 assists in the 2016 season. You can’t ask any more than that from your star player. This is easily the best signing of the league so far. You can tout Keane in front of me but for me Marcelinho will yield far more results than Keane or even Forlan.

Emiliano Alfaro

You know Marcelinho will do well when you see this guy in front of him on the team sheet. Alfaro, playing for a poor team like NEUTD FC last season, still managed to lead the league on goals for a long time. He didn’t end the season on top of the pile with his five goals but he did quite well overall. I want to see the Marcelinho and Alfaro combination. I expect fireworks.

Marcos Tebar

Habas brought in Tebar from Reus, a team that plays in the Segunda Division (Spain) – the second tier of Spanish leagues. If you feel that Tebar is a familiar name, then you’re right. Tebar played the last ISL season for Delhi Dynamos. Because of our stunted schedule, he subsequently went to Reus where he played 9 games.

After the transfer, Habas appreciated Tebar’s tactical knowhow which was revealing for me. I feel that Habas brought Tebar in to be his on-field lieutenant. Tebar is a defensive midfielder (middle of the entire field) who will be able to relay Habas’s instructions to the entire team and keep things glued and ticking at the same time. This is a technical and tactical purchase, something I appreciate sincerely.

Chennaiyin FC

Chennaiyin have been very underwhelming, if you ask me. Their signings are quite subdued and toned down. Last season showed us the importance Elano to Chennaiyin FC by his absence. I think this season is going to show us the importance of Marco Materazzi and his connections amongst just over the hill players.

Chennaiyin were propped up by 2-4 individual performances for the first year. The third year was poor because half of those performers were absent. This will become even starker in the upcoming season. Let’s see how it goes. Here are the highlights of Chennaiyin pre-season deals.

John Gregory

John Gregory was at the heights of his managerial career when I started watching football – 1998. He was at the helm of Aston Villa at the time and leading the league handsomely in the first half of the season. While Villa and Gregory didn’t win the title, they were FA Cup finalists that year. In his managerial career, Gregory has shown a lot of skill and talent.

In the last few years, though, his career path has floundered. I have a feeling this was due to health issues (believe it or not managers are incredibly hard working people). Gregory hasn’t managed any team for two and a half years which is probably because of his health issues.

With Gregory, I think Chennaiyin have a good manager. They will act more like a team under Gregory as opposed to a team of strutting individuals. Materazzi’s biggest skill was his contacts in just retired players and his understanding of the legendary Italian defensive tactics. Gregory will be much more rounded as a manager. He will still need time and the right players though.

Rene Mihelic

Mihelic will hope to be one of those players. In fact, I think he will be one of those players. Mihelic is a skilful attacking midfielder who likes to occupy space between the opponent’s defensive and midfield lines. He receives the ball in those pockets and then runs at people before assisting someone. I think his dribbling skills will bring him a lot of Indian fans.

He also has a tendency to dominate the midfield i.e. other players look to give him the ball and control over their movements. Additionally, he has good dead ball skills too. I think in Mihelic, Chennaiyin may have found their next Elano. Keep an eye on him when you watch Chennaiyin next.

Inigo Calderon

Gregory has channelled his inner business development manager with this signing. Gregory knew of Calderon from when the latter used to play for Brighton. He used his personal connection with Calderon to bring him to Chennaiyin. In fact, he not only found him through his network but also convinced him to come to play in India.

Calderon has always been a right back but I have a feeling that Gregory will use him as a central defender. So, he will perform dual roles for Gregory. The first will be as an experienced central defender who will translate the manager’s instruction on the pitch. The second will be as the team’s informal sport psychologist. It isn’t common knowledge but Calderon is a post graduate in Sports Psychology. Handy, yes?

FC Goa

There’s no team that needs to do better more than FC Goa. They came in last, last season. They were so last that they couldn’t be laster and they should start calling themselves Goa Zlaster. Goa, last year, should be presented as warning to the peeps at FCPC. They had massive differences with their coach Zico and it showed on the field with their woeful performances.

The new coach, Sergio Lobera Rodriguez, should represent a new direction and a fresh start for this team. The team Zico had created has already been modified by Lobera to meet his own vision. For example, while Zico had given his team a distinct Samba flavour, Lobera is trying to instil flamenco in his team. Here is how he’s going about it.

Sergio Juste Marin

Marin is also known as Chechi. This means that you should go to your father’s brother’s wife and start calling her Marin. Seriously though, if someone has Barcelona in their CV, it is nearly the same as having Google on your CV – you’ll get the job. This is probably what happened here. Chechi is a Barca product which means that he knows possession (tiki-taka) football by heart.

Since Lobera wants to play attractive, possession centric football, it isn’t surprising that he went for Chechi. Chechi is a central defender who can play the ball out from defence. Tiki-taka football requires centre backs to have passing skills and Chechi fits the bill from that angle. He’s also only 25 so stamina shouldn’t be a problem.

Ferran Corominas

At the other end of the pitch, Goa will have a different Spaniard. Corominas or Coro as his granny calls him is a forward who has some serious La Liga pedigree. Coro has straddled the La Liga and the Segunda Division (Spanish League 2) all his career, the majority of which (a decade) has been spent with Espanyol.

In his career, he hasn’t exactly been prolific but you can say that he’s been effective. His strike rate is pretty poor considering the position he plays but that doesn’t mean that he won’t do well in the Indian Super League. There’s considerable divide between the ISL and La Liga. He’s 34, so how much he plays is up in the air.

Manuel Arana

Spaniard no. 3 is Arana. He’s a winger, right winger to be specific. He’ll be taking the position that Romeo used to play while Mandar will play in his customary left wing role. He was last seen playing for Brisbane Roar in Australia where he managed 5 assists in some odd 20 games.

Arana is another player who has ridden the elevator up and down the various Spanish league divisions.  This isn’t exactly an exciting signing but it does seem part of an overarching plan (espana).

Ahmed Jahouh

Goa will also have lots of power in their first eleven in the form of Jahouh. Jahouh and Lobera know each other from before when the former played under the latter for Moghreb Tetouan. Jahouh is big, strong, and tall. You can be pretty sure that he will be dominating lots of opponent midfielders purely on the basis of his physical attributes.

It makes sense for Lobera to get Jahouh because it is a good idea to focus on physically sound players in fledgling leagues such as the Indian Super League. For example, teams in tier 2 and below in most European leagues tend to focus on player conditioning far more than skill and technique. From that perspective, Jahouh is a readymade player for Goa.

Jamshedpur FC

Welcome newbie #1 to the Indian Super League. Apparently, bids were invited for no less than 10 tier 2 cities in the country. Of these, Tata Steel won with their bid for Jamshedpur FC. It was a surprising decision as you wouldn’t have expected Jamshedpur to be a football destination. Even so, kudos to the promoters for making a good proposal.

Now, the people at Jamshedpur FC are promising attractive football while keeping a focus on developing youngsters from the local region. It’s a good promise. JFC won’t be as noble and extreme as NorthEast United FC because I feel they’ll try to get players from other parts of the country and the world both. In fact, I think while NEUTD focuses on local players and the other teams focus on foreigners, I feel Jamshedpur FC will balance the two extremes.

Also, TATA has a very good name in the country as an employer. More importantly, they’re seen as a company that actually does something for the socioeconomic development in the country. I expect them to take these values and convert them into footballing principles where off field local development is blended with on field successes. They’ve made a good beginning in trying to get in people who have ISL experience.

Steve Coppell

Let me ask you something. If you have a new team in the ISL and you wanted to get a manager who understands it, who would you get? My guess is that you would either go for Habas the Henchman or Steve Coppell. They’re easily the most experienced and proven performers in the league. Since Habas wasn’t an option, it was an uncontested win for Coppell to get this seat and he did.

Coppell will, of course, play English-ball. As he showed with KBFC, it is possible to play that kind of game in the Indian climate. How attractive people find it to be is quite another thing. Coppell has followed the philosophy of his employers by going for players who know the league to fill up his foreigner quota. Incidentally, it looks like Coppell is focusing more on defence.

José Luis Espinosa Arroyo

Arroyo or Tiri is a former ATK player. He was, in fact, critical to their success last year and performance the year before. At JFC, Tiri will be supporting a largely Indian back line consisting of the keeper Subrata Paul and defender Edathodika.

This should form a good backbone for the Men of Steel especially since Coppell’s teams are created to not concede first. Tiri is generally consistent and solid without being a standout performer.

Emerson Gomes

While Tiri is a Spaniard, Gomes is a Brazilian. Like Tiri, though, Gomes also has ISL experience. Last season, Gomes was a regular for Delhi Dynamos, playing 10 games. He is a defensive midfielder which means that Coppell is adding even more to his stout defensive spine.

Along with Tiri, Edathodika, Paul, Gomes will form a very strong defensive foundation for JFC to launch their attacks off of. When Gomes plays, I expect JFC wingers and wingbacks to be a real threat to the opposition, which brings me to…

Sameehg Doutie

…Doutie. Doutie is one of the wingers I was talking about. Doutie is of the mould of the English winger. He is pacey, tricky, and at the same time, likes to go for the by-line instead of moving diagonally into the box. This means that Doutie likes to beat his marker on the dribble and whip the ball in for the strikers and onrushing midfielders to meet.

Doutie is another former ATK player that Coppell has gone for. Doutie played for ATK the last two seasons and performed quite well. They probably would’ve wanted to keep him but his association with Atletico De Madrid probably scuppered the deal.

Bengaluru FC

Newbie #2… or maybe not. Bengaluru FC was the first ever club to win the I-League in its debut season. You wanna bet that they’ll do the same in the ISL? Yes? No? My prediction is that they will but if they don’t then you can be pretty sure that they’ll come close. Unless of course, Albert Roca, their new coach, tinkers with their balance too much.

They already have an established team that performed very well in the AFC Cup last season. All they needed to do to prepare for the ISL-2017 is refine and improve their team. Their signing, however, show a change of system which may worry some fans. They’ve signed 4 new foreigners other than the ones (John Johnson and Juanan) that they already had.

Their best piece of business, though, was to get Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. In the process, they became the first Indian team to put up a transfer fee to a foreign club. But, we won’t focus on Sandhu here. We’ll do a post later. Onto their foreign signings…

Braulio Nobrega

I want to be inside the commentator box when this guy scores his goal. I’d say…

BRAULIO NOBREGA!

Nobrega has scored his first goal for Bengaluru FC!

You’ve got to say this signing was…wait for it… NOBRAINER!

It will make you snigger wherever you are, admit it. I’ve got one more…wait…

What did the teenage Braulio say to his teenage girlfriend?

NOPREGA!

Wait. Wait. I got one more. This one’s a little political so many of you kids may not get it. So, purely for the elderly gentlemen…

What did Atal Bihari Vajpayee say to Narsimha Rao?

NONREGA!

Heh. That was the last one I promise.

I like Nobrega. Plain and simple. I like him. He scored against Tottenham in the 2007 UEFA Cup and that too with the back of his heel. Personal obsession aside, I still like Nobrega. He seems like a very calm and composed customer in front of the goal. This composure will get him goals especially if he plays in tandem with Sunil Chhetri.

In his younger years, Nobrega was a combination of running and on-pitch intelligence. At 31, I don’t know how much running is left in him but he would definitely have honed his understanding of the game. Also, he hasn’t been away from the game like many other foreign signings in ISL. So that should help him stay sharp too.

I look forward to seeing how he does. If, for nothing else, then for putting the Spuds to the sword.

Erik Paartalu

There’s one signing that has gone under the radar. No one seemed to have noticed that Bengaluru FC have signed the Australian national Paartalu. I don’t understand why, unless they know something that I don’t. Paartalu looks like a good defensive midfielder. He hasn’t even rolled too much over the hill. He’s only 31, which is a good age for a defensive midfielder.

He’s also well-travelled which I usually see as “adaptable”. Adaptable means that he won’t have trouble settling in in India. He’s played in Australia (duh), Scotland, China, Thailand, South Korea, and Qatar. Some of those destinations have atrociously hot climate. Welcome to 45 degrees Celsius and + 80% humidity Paartalu. Better get used to our Chhachh.

Dimas Delgado Morgado

The signing of Delgado and Paartalu are hints from the new Bengaluru FC coach, Roca. Both are midfield players that favour the possession style of football. Delgado is particularly of that mould. He’s from the Pep Guardiola School of football. No, really. He is literally from La Masia, where Pep started out from.

Delgado is a part of the new contingent of players that are flying in from the Australian football league. Delgado actually captained his team, the Western Sydney Wanderers or just Wanderers. Apart from being the captain, he was an important component of that team. He led his team to win the AFC Champions League in 2014.

Yes, you read that right. That tournament is the equivalent of the UEFA Champion’s League. Delgado has pedigree. Keep an eye out for him.

Antonio Rodriguez Dovale

Dovale, often called Toni, has La Liga pedigree. He is basically a very young (by ISL foreign signing standards) left winger, who has quick feet and a good footballing brain. He’s 27. Toni will be another piece of Roca’s possession style of football. While Toni can cross the ball, he also likes to dribble and move inside into the box for one-twos. This is precisely what Roca may be looking for from his wingers.

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