‘ISL is not a tournament anymore, it is a proper league now’
In the space of just two months and three days, head coach Alexandre Guimarães completely changed the fortunes of Mumbai City FC. A club which was associated with inconsistency and a leaky defence was transformed into one which finished on top of the table and kept a staggering nine clean sheets. If the Costa Rican can pull off such a feat in a little more than 60 days, then this year's Hero Indian Super League — which is exactly two months longer than the earliear seasons — will give him and other head coaches time to impart their ideas on their squads in a more effective manner. "I think this season,there will be enough time for recovery, preparation and even try different styles. A longer league means every manager will have more time to impart their ideas to their team and know players better," he said.
Guimarães is the only returning head coach, unless youcount Albert Roca, who was in charge of Bengaluru FC when the club was part ofthe Hero I-League last season. But while Guimarães didn't bat an eyelid beforeaccepting the offer to coach in Mumbai for one more year, FC Goa midfielderBruno Pinheiro said that a longer season was the biggest reason in his returnto India. Pinheiro played for the Gaurs in the first season and is back after atwo-year gap.
"One of the main reasons for me agreeing to comeback is the extension of the league. The biggest advantage of this is for theplayers, who need time to recover and a longer season means betterperformances," the Portuguese said. Chennaiyin FC manager John Gregory didn'tmince words while discussing the lengths of the previous Hero ISL editions.
"I remember seeing the fixture lists fromprevious seasons and there was a point where Chennaiyin played threegames in six days. That was too much to ask for from players. As fortraining drills, I won't do anything different compared to England, whereChampionship clubs play 46 games in 38 weeks along with (midweek) cupgames as well. But a longer league gives coaches and players enough to knoweach other," the 63-year-old said. Iain Hume, who has been synonymous withthe Hero ISL, said that he would have come back for another season irrespectiveof the duration, but stated a 4-month long duration meant that "earlierthe ISL was a tournament, now it is a league."
Hume also said that he doesn't see a longer leaguebeing a hindrance in attracting top names to the Hero ISL, adding that thelikes of former Manchester United players Dimitar Berbatov and Wes Brownsigning up for the league proved that the decision to increase its length was asign of progression. "More teams and a longer league mean that the leaguewill become more and more established," says Hume.
Serbian Ranko Popovic, who takes over from AntonioHabas at FC Pune City said that he was impressed with how receptive the Indianplayers have been so far to his methods, but said that shorter leagues mean"too much vacation time." "That was the only surprise for methat players have to come back from such a long vacation. In Europe, we get amonth or two, and that is the way forward for the Hero ISL," he said.
Pune's winger Kean Lewis said that it was a big pluspoint for players' welfare to be employed for a longer period of time. Allthe head coaches who spoke at the Hero ISL's Media Day today in Mumbai, werecategorical about the number of ideas they wanted to implement on their teams —and that all these ideas needed time to be executed. With the duration ofthe league lasting for double the time of its previous editions, this will bethe season that coaches and players will cherish in terms of learning andexecuting their skills on the pitch.