Big challenge for players as the entire season is scheduled in three venues in Goa
Hyderabad: The Covid-19 has thrown the sporting world into disarray disrupting the schedule across the globe in March. While some sports returned to action in Europe a few months ago, the seventh edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) will mark the return of major sporting activities in India when the tournament starts on Friday.
The entire season is scheduled at three venues in Goa and players are kept in a bio-secure environment, making sure the players and support staff remain protected. Defending champions ATK, rechristened as ATK Mohun Bagan after ATK merged with ISL team Mohun Bagan this year, will start their title defence against Kerala Blasters. The defending champions defeated Chennaiyin FC 3-1 the final of the last year to create history to pocket the title for the record third time. Chennaiyin FC have won the title twice while Bengaluru FC emerged champions once.
Given the duration of the tournament, which will run till March next year, all eyes will be on the mental aspect of the players. They were in a bio-bubble since a month training in Goa ahead of the kick-off. But staying inside the bubble for a long period of time can take a toll on the psyche of the players. The management of the clubs is also aware of the issue and agreed that it would be a bigger challenge.
Sergio Lobera, the noted Spanish manager who moved to Mumbai FC this season after his two-year successful stint with Goa FC, acknowledged the tough road ahead. “Staying in a bio-bubble can be tough on players for such a long period. However, we were trying to have fun whenever we get time off from training by participating in different fun activities. Luckily, all the guys in Mumbai FC are very fun-loving guys and we hope to maintain the atmosphere throughout. Having said that, man-management is a big challenge,” he said.
He also opined that this edition of the league will be very competitive given the quality of the teams in the league. “All teams are very good and they had good overseas signings. ISL has grown in quality in very less time. We can’t predict any clear favourite,” added the 43-year-old manager.
However, ATK Mohun Bagan look a solid side on paper and fans will be treated to their age-old rivalry with Sporting Club East Bengal, who are making their debut this season. But the two-time champions Chennaiyin and Bengaluru FC have also shaped well ahead of the season. Last-year debutants Hyderabad Football Club, who finished at the bottom of the table, revamped their entire squad and roped in some quality players. The franchise from the land of Nizams, which has a rich history of football, hopes to make an impression.
On the whole, this edition of the ISL will be watched closely as it would set a trend for the upcoming tournaments in the country. While the cash-rich tournament Indian Premier League was shifted to UAE amid pandemic, ISL hope to provide a ray of hope for other sport in the country.
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