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Increased competition in 10th season of ISL sparks enthusiasm & excitement

Seasoned players like Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC) along with emerging stars such as Chinglensana Singh (Hyderabad FC) and Ishan Pandita (Kerala Blasters FC) spoke highly of the infrastructure development and the exposure that the ISL has provided to help them grow by leaps and bounds from a professional standpoint

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Kolkata: The ISL has symbolised India’s footballing resurgence as it embarks on the coming season commencing with the clash between Kerala Blasters FC and Bengaluru FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on September 21.

Head coaches and former league winners like Sergio Lobera (Odisha FC), Owen Coyle (Chennaiyin FC), and Carles Cuadrat (East Bengal FC), along with 2022-2023 ISL League Shield winner Des Buckingham (Mumbai City FC) and 2022-2023 ISL Cup winner Juan Ferrando (Mohun Bagan Super Giant) among others shed light on the league’s growth and their teams’ preparations for the coming year.

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Seasoned players like Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC) along with emerging stars such as Chinglensana Singh (Hyderabad FC) and Ishan Pandita (Kerala Blasters FC) spoke highly of the infrastructure development and the exposure that the ISL has provided to help them grow by leaps and bounds from a professional standpoint

Starting off, all eyes will be on the champions of the previous season as they set about in an exciting journey to defend their titles in this campaign. Mumbai City FC displayed imperious form for most parts of the previous campaign, which culminated with them winning the illustrious ISL League Winners Shield and qualifying to the AFC Champions League subsequently.

Later on, Juan Ferrando’s Mohun Bagan Super Giant stamped their authority by emerging victorious in the grand finale against Bengaluru FC and claiming the ISL trophy. Islanders’ head coach Des Buckingham spoke highly of the league improving by leaps and bounds as he enters his third season in the ISL. On the other hand, Ferrando positively touched upon the challenges lying for the coming campaign on the backdrop of multiple international breaks and with his team competing in the AFC Cup as well.

“I was talking to the coaches outside and there is a lot of hype behind this season; obviously with it being the 10th season. It’s my third season here and I think across the clubs, when I look at what the league may have been three-four years ago, and what it is now with how the clubs have set themselves up year upon year, that’s exciting. Because, what you see is the players being able to perform to the levels that we see now. We are starting to see more excitement in the games because of that. It shows why we have been able to showcase what we did last year in terms of our playing style and of course the requisite work taking us there,” Buckingham explained.

“It’s difficult for the players, staff, when you have only two days between matches. But, I am in a big club so when you are the head coach in big clubs and important clubs, you have this problem. You play a lot of matches and try to win the trophies. I prefer to work with the team and train but at this moment I am happy because I am working in a big club and this is very important to be able to prepare for another match within one day. So, it’s a balance.” Ferrando talked about the challenges that come with a longer season.

Chhetri, skipper of Bengaluru FC underlined his intentions of doing everything he can to avoid being benched by head coach Simon Grayson this season. The forward was sidelined from the starting XI for six games last year and he has reiterated that he will be edging to rule out any such possibilities this time around. “I do not like to sit on the bench. I want to be in the first XI of the table tennis, badminton, carom board, chess, I just want to play, man! So, don’t change it, please! The one who is going to decide that is sitting over here (Simon Grayson). Don’t change it, please,” Chhetri said in a light-hearted exchange with his coach.
Lobera, who returns to India at the helm of Odisha FC, is admittedly impressed with the project at the club and is looking forward to rewriting history with the Juggernauts after two exceedingly successful spells as FC Goa and Mumbai City FC previously. “Odisha, I think, is a club that is growing every day. I am very happy to be a part of this family. I am here to try to help. The coach is one piece more in this project to try to help the club. When I had a meeting with the owners, I felt like this is a place where I want to work. Hopefully we can grow more and achieve success in both the short and the long term,” the Spaniard said.

Lobera is not the only ex-ISL winner coming back to the league after a brief while away. Scottish tactician Owen Coyle, who handsomely cruised the Jamshedpur FC ship to the ISL League Winners Shield in 2021/22, is now at where it all began for him in India.
Coyle has been tasked with turning around Chennaiyin FC’s fortunes this season. He has not been averse to saving a sinking ship as the perfect testament to that was in 2019/20 when he took over the reins of the Marina Machans midway through the campaign and spearheaded them to the final in an incredible fashion. Coyle is hoping to repeat the same and go one step ahead this time around.
“Chennaiyin is always a special feeling because there are such good people. We may not be the biggest club in the league but we sure can still be the best. To do that we need a number of things – a lot of things, but the good thing is we know how to get up, and we know how to be champions,” he remarked.

However, a comeback that everyone will be keeping close tabs on will be that of Carles Cuadrat. The Spanish head coach is heading East Bengal FC this season but he first shot into prominence in Indian football with his celebrated stint at Bengaluru FC. Cuadrat had pioneered them to their maiden ISL victory in 2018/19 and is hopeful of repeating those heroics with the Red and Gold Brigade this year.

“It will be an interesting ISL because we will meet a lot of coaches who have been champions in india, be it the champions of the ISL, Federation Cup, Super Cup etc. They already know how to be competitive in that environment, so,that’s great for ISL to have so many champion coaches in the competition” Cuadrat looked at the season ahead.
“We’ve been in the ISL for three seasons and things haven’t gone well for the club. We’re here to try to change the dynamics. We have a lot of supporters and a huge legacy to this club. The supporters are having bad times in the last three seasons so it’s hard work for us to improve the performance and to try to get the positive results for the supporters,” he added, signalling a positive reversal of form for the club.

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