CHURCHILL BROTHERS SC
The 2008/09 I-League Champions are once again one of the title challengers this season. Joaquim Alemao, the Churchill supremo, has brought in AFC “A” License holder Vincent Subramaniam to manage the club in order to fulfill the eligibility criteria laid by AFC. They finished I-League 2009/10 as the runners-up, just behind their Goan arch-rival Dempo SC. They have lost a few of their first team players in the transfer market, prominent names include winger Vasum and full back Naoba Singh who signed for East Bengal. Playmaker Ogba Kalu Nanna opted to part away from Churchill and joined the ranks in Dempo SC. However, they tried to restrict the damage by signing in a few quality youngsters from disbanded Mahindra United. Denzil Franco, Steven Dias, Noel Fernandes, Dharmaraj Ravanan and Mohammed Rafi are the major signings for them from Mahindra. Besides, they have also recruited Viva Kerala playmaker M.P. Shakeer and Salgaocar’s Iranian defender Siavash Shaminia.
They have formed a very good first 11, but lack of a top class goalkeeper can hurt their ambitions. First Choice goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharya is busy with the national team and they will not have his services until February. Lalit Thapa and Vinay Singh are the reserve goalkeepers, who have hardly been tested in the big stage so far. Their defense line comprising of Denzil Franco, Rowlison Rodrigues, Robert Lalthalma and Siavash Shaminia looks competent. Also once the national team players are available, the inclusion of Dharmaraj Ravanan and Gourmangi Singh will make them stronger.
M.P. Shakeer is more than capable of covering for the void left by the departure of Ogba Kalu Nanna. Khemtang Paite, Noel Fernandes and Bineesh Balan will be supporting M.P. Shakeer in the midfield. Steven Dias’s inclusion will bring in a positive effect from February onwards. The most sought after striker in the country, three times I-League Golden Boot winner, Odafa Onyeka Okolie will lead their striking department. All eyes will be on their new Cameroonian signing Ernest Emako-Siankam and if he can gel well with Odafa, Churchill will not be too worried regarding the forward line. Charan Rai and Durga Boro both are promising back-ups for the foreign striking combo. Moreover, Mohammed Rafi, who has been in amazing form in national colors, will instill confidence in the squad once he joins back from the national duty.
However, to succeed in such a marathon run, one should have decent reserve bench strength. Churchill may find it difficult to get things rolling if one or two of their key players sustain any kind of injury. There is no proper back-up for someone like Odafa or M.P. Shakeer and things can turn tricky if one of them struggles for form.
Coach: Vincent Subramaniam
Key Players: Odafa, Shakeer, Steven Dias, Charan Rai, Gourmangi, Md Rafi
Best I-League Performance : Champion [2008/09]
Team’s Ambition : Title Contenders
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : 4th
DEMPO SPORTS CLUB:
They are the reigning I-League Champions and won the national league for a record four times. They won their first title in 2004/05 and then went on to win the league in 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2009/10. This year also, they are one of the prominent title contenders. Dempo has lost only two players in the transfer market – first choice ‘keeper Abhijit Mondal and midfielder Jerry Zirsanga both have been signed by Chirag United. To compensate for the loss of Abhijit Mondal, they have recruited Mahindra United goalkeeper, India’s number 2 at this moment, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury. But the talented custodian will be available only in coming February. They have also signed midfielders Micky Fernandes and Godwin Franco from Mohun Bagan and Pune FC. Mahindra’s promising defender Debrata Roy will also ply his trade in Dempo’s color this season.
They are the worst affected club in terms of releasing the players for national duty and they will be without Anthony Pereira, Clifford Miranda, Samir Naik, Climax Lawrence, Mahesh Gawli and Anwar Ali until the Asia Cup gets over. Indian U-21 international Laxmikanth Kattimani will be their first choice goalkeeper in the absence of Subhashish, while John Dias, Creson Antao, Peter Carvalho and Debrata Roy will be the preferred back four for Armando Colaco.
Their creator in the midfield, Roberto Mendes Silva, popularly known as Beto, is reportedly having a rift with the club coach and expressed his desire to terminate his contract. Though it is highly unlikely that the club will release him in mid-season, which may affect the dressing room harmony. Ogba Kalu Nanna will be their main weapon in the midfield if Beto decides to sit out. Godwin Franco, Micky Fernandes and Johny D’Cruz will be supporting him in the midfield, atleast till February. It will be a testing period for the young Dempo midfield and coach Armando Colaco will hope that they can get a decent run in the early stage of the tournament.
Ranty Martins will lead the attacking department and he will be supported by the talented Joaquim Abrahanches in the striking zone. Clifton Gonsalves is the only other forward available in the squad, which may hurt them on the long run. Armando Colaco prefers a 4-5-1 formation and he is expected to get back to his five men formula once the services of the national team players are available. But till then it would mostly be 4-4-2 and any injury to their star striker Ranty Martins would dash their title hopes.
Coach: Armando Colaco
Key Players: Beto, Ogba Kalu, Ranty Martins, Climax Lawrence, Anthony Pereira, Mahesh Gawli
Best I-League Performance : Champion [2004/05, 2006/07, 2007/08, 2009/10]
Team’s Ambition : Title Contender
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : Runners-up
KINGFISHER EAST BENGAL:
The Kolkata giants will always remain one of the eternal title favorites in India’s top tier football league. The Red & Gold brigade has won the national league on three occasions – in 2000/01, 2002/03 and 2003/04 besides claiming second spot equal number of times. In a bid to come over the disappointment of last season, where they finished an all time low 9th position, the first and foremost thing the club authorities did is to arrange for a handsome transfer kitty. Philippe de Ridder got the sack and Trevor James Morgan, who has prior experience in working with English Premier League clubs like Hull City and Birmingham City, has been appointed as the new coach.
For the last couple of seasons, East Bengal were undone by the selection of incompetent foreigners. This time around, they made every attempt to recruit quality players from abroad. They made their intentions clear when they decided to release the Ghanaian striker duo of Yusif Yakubu and Hammond who have had decent success in Red & Gold color last season. The Kolkata giants have retained centre back Uga Okpara, who had a solid year after arriving in the mid-season. To strengthen the strike force, East Bengal brought in New South Wales League top scorer Tolgay Ozbey from Australia’s Blacktown City FC spending close to 90 lacks per season. JCT midfielder Penn Orji was on the East Bengal radar for a couple of seasons and finally they have landed him in Kolkata this time.
They had also signed Salgaocar’s Nigerian striker Ekene Ikenwa, but later sold him off again to Salgaocar as the striker was not happy with limited first team appearance. It has been reported that Finish midfielder Aki Riihilahti, who had a successful stint in the English Premier League with Crystal Palace, is on his way to Kolkata from HJK Helsinki to don the famous Red & Gold jersey. Internal sources revealed that the club has reached to an agreement with the player’s agent and it is a matter of time before Indian football fans witness an English Premier League player taking on the field to play in the I-League.
Last season, goalkeeping and defense were the main areas of concern for East Bengal. Former Red & Gold goalkeeper and India number one Sandip Nandy has rejoined the club from Mahindra United and this move will sort out the goalkeeping woes for the Kolkata League champions. To strengthen the defense line, East Bengal successfully acquired the signings of Churchill’s reliable defender Naoba Singh, JCT’s Gurwinder Singh and Sunil Kumar Thakur. They also managed to bring Air India’s promising defender Ravinder Singh. With Nirmal Chhetri, Saikat Saha Roy and Captain Soumik Dey, East Bengal’s back-line looks formidable this year.
Trevor Morgan is spoilt for choices in the East Bengal midfield with the likes of Mehtab Hussain, Penn Orji, Alvito D’Cunha, Sanju Pradhan, Harmonjot Singh Khabra and Beokhokhei. They have also signed Churchill Brother’s flamboyant winger Reisangmei Vasum, Mahindra United’s Sushanth Mathew and Baljit Sahani from JCT.
In the attacking department the most promising catch by the East Bengal recruiters, apart from Tolgay, is Robin Singh. The TFA product has already become the heart-throb of Red & Gold faithful by scoring 4 goals against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in 3 appearances this season. His partnership with Tolgay, fondly called by the name “Toli-Roli” by the club supporters, is a massive hit straightaway. They also have young but promising Budhiram Tudu and Bikash Narzary who can ably support the “Toli-Roli” duo upfront.
Morgan has already decided on his preferred formation and starting line-up. It will be a 4-3-3 with Sandip Nandy in goal; Naoba, Okpara, Nirmal and Soumik in the defense; Mehtab as the central defensive midfielder; Vasum and Sanju Pradhan on the wings, Tolgay-Robin as the strikers and Penn Orji as the roaming attacking midfielder to play just behind the two pronged attack. The tactic has been successful as East Bengal has already won three trophies this year including the prestigious Federation Cup and Kolkata Football League. Most importantly, Morgan not only has a great starting 11, but also possesses an equally competent reserve line-up. In the marathon run, the squad depth will help East Bengal to tackle any injury crisis.
With an eye on the future, East Bengal spent a whopping sum of rupees 1.5 crore to ink long term transfer deals with five promising TFA graduates. Four of them, Subodh Kumar, Milan Singh, Abhishek Das and highly rated defender Raju Gaekwad are currently on their mandatory loan term to AIFF XI. They will be back to East Bengal once they attain the age of 21 years.
Four top class East Bengal players are currently in the national camp which includes Indian national team captain and highest scorer, the jewel of Indian football, Baichung Bhutia. Baichung, along with Syed Rahim Nabi, Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Renedy Singh will be available after the conclusion of Asia Cup in February and the prospects look bright for East Bengal to clinch their fourth national league crown.
Coach: Trevor James Morgan
Key Players: Baichung Bhutia, Tolgay Ozbey, Robin, Mehtab, Penn Orji, Alvito, Vasum
Best I-League Performance : Champion [2000/01, 2002/03, 2003/04]
Team’s Ambition : Title Contender
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : Champions
Bangalore based institutional club HAL SC, named after the parent company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, has been promoted to the I-League by virtue of finishing 2nd in 2010 I-League 2nd Division, but they are not new to the top tier football. They had also participated in the national football league’s 2006/07. The club is managed by AFC “A” License holder Thyagaraj.
With a smaller budget at their disposal, HAL SC made some intelligent signings in the summer and they have managed to create a decent line-up with the right blend of experience and youth. Former Air India midfielder and India under-21 international James Singh is the most well-known face in their line-up. Former Churchill Brothers defender Shekar Muralidharan and Nepal international star Rohit Chand are other prominent names. Xavier Vijaykumar, who has been with the club for over 6 years in a row, is an integral part of their squad.
Nigerian defender Joseph Femi Adeola and his countryman Abdulla Hamza, who plays as a striker, are the other two foreign signings. They have also signed a few promising youngsters from Salgaocar SC, Vasco and Viva Kerala. Prakash Koley, who played for another Bangalore based institutional club BEML, has also agreed to play for HAL this year. P. Pramod, former Malabar United FC goalkeeper, will be HAL’s first choice custodian.
The club enjoys massive fan support in their hometown, Bangalore, being the only club from this region to participate in the prestigious I-League. The team and its supporters will be happy with a performance which can see them survive the relegation battle in the top division league this season – anything more than that will certainly be added bonus.
Coach: R Thyagaraj
Key Players: James Singh, Xavier Vijaykumar, Rohit Chand, Joseph Femi Adeola, Abdulla Hamza.
Best I-League Performance : 10th [2006/07]
Team’s Ambition : To finish above relegation zone
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : 12th
[Watch this space : Part – III Coming Soon]